Hospital pioneers new cancer treatment

BREAST cancer patients in Suffolk will be the first in the country to be offered a new state-of-the-art treatment that may lessen the chance of the disease returning.

Craig Robinson

BREAST cancer patients in Suffolk will be the first in the country to be offered a new state-of-the-art treatment that may lessen the chance of the disease returning.

Ipswich Hospital is the only hospital in the UK to already have the pioneering trial up and running and is now looking for people to take part.

The treatment involves using image-guided radiotherapy to target a specific area of the breast once the tumour has been removed.

Normal practice is for doctors to treat the whole breast but it is hoped that by focusing a high dose of radiation close to where the cancer has been taken out it will reduce the chance of it ever coming back.

Patients eligible for the trial will be those who are at a higher risk of having their tumours recur in the breast.

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Andrew Poynter, head of radiotherapy at Ipswich Hospital, said: “Historically radiotherapy is given to the whole breast but the new treatment allows for a focussed dose to an area most at risk - close to where the tumour was in the first place.

“The original tumour will have been removed surgically and the radiotherapy is given to reduce the chances of it coming back.

“After the initial surgery the tumour is examined and the risk of it recurring can be estimated from factors like its size and the precise type of cancer cells that it contains.

“It's a very good opportunity for us to be able to offer this treatment to the local population - it shows that Ipswich is leading the way.”

Mr Poynter said the hospital already had three machines - called linear accelerators - that would be able to administer the treatment.

He said they also had the ability to x-ray the patient while they were being treated so that small adjustments could be made to ensure the radiotherapy dose was targeting the right area.

The trial - called Import High - will eventually be launched in 15 other hospitals across the country and is being led by Professor John Yarnold at the Royal Marsden in London and Dr Charlotte Coles at Addenbrookes in Cambridge.

It will last for between two to three years and patients will be followed up five or six years afterwards to evaluate the benefits of applying the new technology to breast cancer.

It is hoped that 2,000 people nationwide will take part in the trial, which is organised by the Institute of Cancer Research and funded by Cancer Research UK.

Mr Poynter, who has been head of radiotherapy at Ipswich for 14 years, said the hospital was chosen after a successful pilot study of the new image-guided radiotherapy that is being used in the trial.

“That gave us a lot of experience in using the new techniques so that we could hit the ground running,” he said. “We are now all ready to go and inviting patients to take part.”