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Last Updated: Friday, 18 May 2007, 12:02 GMT 13:02 UK
"One-stop" breast radiotherapy advance
By Fergus Walsh
BBC Medical Correspondent

Radiotherapy
Convention follow-up is a prolonged course of radiotherapy

A revolutionary technique for delivering radiotherapy to breast cancer patients is being trialled by surgeons in Britain.

It's called intraoperative radiotherapy. Patients are given radiation treatment during surgery rather than coming in for weeks of post-operative treatment.

Surgery to remove cancerous breast tissue is the starting point of successful treatment for thousands of women in Britain each year.

Then, after surgery the conventional follow-up treatment for breast cancer is a prolonged course of radiotherapy.

It can mean 20 or 30 visits to hospital over five to seven weeks.

One-off treatment

But a team at London's University College Hospital have pioneered a new approach, where the patient has just one dose of radiation, during the operation.

It is done using a mobile radiotherapy machine.

The probe is inserted into the breast so that it can target the exact site of the cancer.

Probe
The probe is inserted into the breast

Then the surgeons leave theatre while specialists deliver the radiation which lasts about 30 minutes.

So far 800 women have joined an international trial being coordinated by London's University College Hospital.

Two other London hospitals - Guy's and the Royal Free - are involved, as is Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Mohammed Keshtgar, a breast surgeon at UCLH, says: "The preliminary results are very encouraging.

"I have absolutely no doubt that this is a revolutionary technique which will significantly improve the care of patients".

Convenience

When Jennie Williams was diagnosed with breast cancer she was told she'd have to wait months for a prolonged course of radiotherapy.

Jenny Williams
It was very convenient to be able to get everything out of the way in one go
Breast cancer patient Jennie Williams

So she signed up for the trial and had a single dose during surgery.

She's been in remission for more than three years. "The treatment was remarkable really", she said.

"I'd just recently started a business, so it was very convenient to be able to get everything out of the way in one go - it felt like a minor medical event".

The standard treatment - post-operative radiotherapy - is proven to reduce the risk of cancer recurring.

It will be two years before doctors can assess if the new technique is as successful over the long term. But if it is there would be major benefits to the NHS.

Professor Michael Baum, the head of clinical trial, says the impact would be dramatic.

"Around 30% of radiotherapy is for breast cancer. If you removed that then at a stroke it would cut the work load of radiotherapy centres by nearly a third and cut waiting lists from around 12 weeks to no weeks," he said.

For the moment single dose radiotherapy is still experimental but there is huge excitement and hope that it could transform the way breast cancer treatment is delivered.




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