Brand new treatment set to replace weeks of radiotherapy
An innovative new breast cancer treatment that replaces a course of radiotherapy with a single shot is set to be offered by the NHS.
The radiation dose is delivered from inside the breast, after the tumour has been removed during surgery. As well as potentially saving the NHS money, the new treatment has been hailed to benefit up to 36,000 people, with the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) saying it would improve a patient’s quality of life.
The technique, called intra-operative radiation, is only suitable for patients who have managed to spot their cancer early, as these are the patients who would have surgery to remove the tumour. Using typical radiotherapy, the patient would then have to endure at least another 15 trips to hospital for further treatment, to kill off any remaining cancerous cells. However, intra-operative radiation is delivered by a probe inserted into the breast, which gives radiation to the exact site of the cancer for half an hour.
As well as bypassing the stress of numerous hospital trips, the single dose also helps to avoid potential damage to organs such as the heart, lung and oesophagus, which is risk during radiation to the whole breast. Sample tests on more than 2,000 people suggest that the results are similar to normal radiotherapy, with the same level of effectiveness, however there is no long term data available.
Probes aren’t cheap at approximately £500,000 each, however estimates have suggested the single shot treatment could still save the NHS £15 million a year. If approved, the NICE guidelines regarding this treatment could be introduced in England by the end of the year.
Prof Carole Longson, director of health technology evaluation at NICE, told BBC News “Because it is still relatively new, it is only right to recommend its use in a carefully controlled way. This will ensure patients are fully aware of the risks and benefits before choosing which treatment to have and allow doctors to gather more information about the treatment.”
Breakthrough Breast Cancer senior policy officer Sally Greenbrook said “This new treatment means they can get on with rest of their treatment much quicker, they can get on with the rest of their lives much quicker.” Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s head of policy, said “This could be good news for breast cancer patients. Giving radiotherapy in a single dose at the time of surgery potentially offers a huge benefit, especially if it means fewer visits to hospital. It’s essential that those who receive this radiotherapy are followed up for a long period of time to ensure the single dose is as at least as effective as the standard treatment. Radiotherapy is already a very effective treatment, and this technique could offer another valuable option for treating early breast cancer.”