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Expert weighs up new breast cancer therapy

Dr Patricia Fisher with the Linear Accelerator at Weston park Hospital

Dr Patricia Fisher with the Linear Accelerator at Weston park Hospital

A Sheffield cancer expert has given a cautious welcome to a new breast cancer treatment which promises to replace long radiotherapy sessions with a single, targeted shot.

The treatment, given approval for NHS use in draft guidance by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, would benefit up to 36,000 people nationwide.

The technique, called intra-operative radiation, is suitable only for patients who have caught their cancer early.

Currently, those patients would have surgery to remove the tumour. They would then face at least another 15 trips to hospital for radiotherapy to kill any remaining cancerous cells.

But Dr Patricia Fisher, clinical director of oncology at Sheffield Teaching Hospitals which runs the specialist Weston Park cancer hospital, said while the technique appeared ‘very interesting’, it was ‘not yet fully approved’.

“The treatment takes up to 45 minutes while the patient is anaesthetised and in surgery, and is also only appropriate for some ladies with breast cancer,” said Dr Fisher.

“A lot of patients will still need to have conventional radiotherapy but other trials are looking at whether that can be safely reduced further.

“We will need to review the guidance once it is given final approval by NICE, and consider what benefits it can provide to appropriate patients.”

The initial price of the treatment is expensive, with each probe costing £500,000.

The procedure is performed during surgery.

Once the tumour is removed, a probe is inserted into the breast and delivers radiation to the site of the cancer for about half an hour.

Tests on more than 2,000 people suggest the technique has a similar level of effectiveness as conventional radiotherapy.

 

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