BY TOBY PORTER
A specialist team has treated its 100th brain cancer patient with radiotherapy which attacks tumours but not the cells around them.
A focused high-intensity beam of radiation is used at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital’s cancer department to target the growth, thus preserving healthy tissue and cutting the time patients spend on the treatment table.
The stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) machine fires a very precise form of radiation therapy which, despite the use of the word ‘surgery’ in its name, avoids the need to go under the surgeon’s knife.
Guy’s Cancer is one of only 17 centres in the UK with the expertise and capability to deliver the cutting-edge treatment.
The patient wears a mask which looks like an open balaclava to keep their head still. A surface guided tracking system, AlignRT, helps to position them and track any movement throughout the radiotherapy treatment to within a distance of less than half a millimetre.
If they move it will trigger the radiation beam to automatically switch off so only the tumour is targeted.
Dr Ronald Beaney, consultant clinical oncologist at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “SRS is suitable for small tumours which may be difficult to remove surgically or where surgery is likely to be associated with a high risk of side effects.
“Using such highly accurate and non-invasive technology means we can treat brain cancer patients with more comfort and accuracy than before.
Previously, patients required a metal frame to be fixed to the skull with four securing screws but with our approach we simply use a custom-made mask which most patients prefer.”
Corrine Nash, 49, from Rainham in Kent, was the 100th patient to be treated by the team.
She said: “The radiotherapy took about an hour but felt shorter than it was. “I’m quite claustrophobic so I closed my eyes and tried counting.
“The team asked me what kind of music I liked and played some good songs. I remember they had The Proclaimers song I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles). It was quite hard not to sing along which would have involved moving.
“I also tried to work out how many seconds were in 50 minutes. That kept me occupied for a while, anything that kept my brain busy.
“Everyone was brilliant – the doctors, the technicians, the ladies who make the mask.
“I was petrified but they made a big difference. I’m not sure I’d have been able to get through it without them.
“They were all smiling and positive and it makes such a big difference.” Angela Francis, head of radiotherapy at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “SRS is a very accurate way of giving radiotherapy treatment to small areas of the brain.
It allows us to use very small beams of high energy x-rays to treat the tumour. “Because we can direct the radiotherapy very accurately, this increases the chances of controlling the tumour whilst at the same time minimising the amount of X-rays that pass through healthy tissue.
This reduces the chance of possible side effects from the treatment.”