Breast cancer patients spared permanent reminder

Thursday 6 May 2021

Tattoo-free radiation treatment

Guy’s and St Thomas’ has become the first NHS Trust in London to offer a revolutionary new tattoo-free radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Traditional radiation therapy requires breast cancer patients to be tattooed with three small dots to ensure treatment is delivered to the right location. This leaves a permanent reminder of the experience and has an added emotional impact for some patients.

Now a surface guided tracking system, AlignRT, projects a visible red light onto the patient’s body from three camera pods mounted on the ceiling.

It is used to correctly position the patient and then monitor any movement throughout the radiotherapy treatment to within a distance of one millimetre.

If they move it will trigger the radiation beam to automatically switch off so only the tumour is targeted.

Monitoring and maintaining a patient's position is especially important when treating the breast because movements from breathing can result in radiation being delivered to neighbouring tissue and organs. This can lead to unwanted side effects and ineffective treatment.

The new treatment technique will benefit approximately 1,000 patients per year at Guy’s and St Thomas’. It is available at the Cancer Centre at Guy’s, and Guy's Cancer at Queen Mary's Hospital – where it was first trialled.

Jane Markcoons, 60, from Bromley is one of the patients to have benefitted. She said: “I was really pleased to find out I wouldn’t be left with tattoo marks as the last thing you want is to be reminded of your cancer all the time. When lots of women have radiotherapy they have already undergone chemotherapy and may be struggling with hair loss and other side effects so this is one less thing to worry about.

“I was shown respect and kindness by every one of the staff. At a very scary time, when I didn’t know what to expect, I was treated as a person and not a condition or disease.”

Deirdre Dobson, deputy head of radiotherapy at Guy’s and St Thomas’, said: “Having a permanent reminder of their cancer treatment and what they’ve had to go through can be very distressing for some of our patients. This new technique helps them to leave their radiotherapy in the past and will really benefit our patients’ psychological wellbeing.

“As breast cancer survival rates improve it’s more important than ever that we don’t just treat the disease but help our patients move on with their lives as well.  We are continuing to develop our techniques using this technology to investigate enhancing experience for more patient groups.”

Last updated: May 2021

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