How breast cancer patients are finishing radiation faster

How breast cancer patients are finishing radiation faster

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It also means fewer trips to the cancer clinic.

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“That’s a huge benefit to patients,” Cancer Institute NSW CEO and chief cancer officer Professor David Currow said. “It means they spend less time away from home or work and their other commitments.”

It’s now the most common radiotherapy for early-stage breast cancer in NSW, available across every Local Health District.

In NSW public hospitals, 69 per cent of early-stage breast cancer patients who had radiotherapy were treated with hypofractionated method, according to the Cancer Control in NSW report released last week.

But it varied significantly between public and private facilities across the state from 95 per cent to 7 per cent.

Multiple clinical trials have shown hypofractionated radiotherapy is just as good as controlling cancer as standard treatment.

One trial reported women who underwent hypofractionated radiotherapy were significantly less likely to die within 10 years of treatment compared to those who underwent standard radiotherapy.

Radiation oncologist Dr Verity Ahern at Westmead Hospital’s Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre first used hypofractionated radiotherapy during her training in England over two decades ago.

But over the past five years – since clinical trials have confirmed its benefits – the technique has been increasingly used in Australia.

“For suitable patients, I don’t think there is any downside whatsoever,” Dr Ahern said.

“Side effects were no worse”, including redness and itching in the treated area, “and the fewer times you need to go to hospital the better,” she said.

Lyn Corby, 68, leaves work early nine days every fortnight for the 30-minute drive to Westmead Hospital for hypofractionated radiation therapy.

“I still work full-time so it’s fairly important that I can have fewer sessions,” Ms Corby said.

For women living in rural areas who travel long distances for treatment, the option of fewer sessions is of immense importance, Dr Ahern said.

The time off work, away from family, and the cost of travel and accommodation for treatment could be the difference between women choosing to have a mastectomy or opting for breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation therapy, she said.

It’s also a cost-saver for the health system, with fewer treatments and short treatment courses allowing clinics to treat more patients with existing resources.

“Because breast cancer accounts for quite a significant amount of work at any radiation oncology treatment centre, if we hadn’t implemented hypofractionated radiotherapy we would have had to increase the hours of operation, which adds to our costs,” Dr Ahern said.

Kate Aubusson is Health Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

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