Care breakthrough and new high-tech kit improves breast cancer treatment at Weston Park Cancer Centre

An equestrian lover who was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer has had her post-surgery radiotherapy treatment given in five days instead of fifteen thanks to a new advance in cancer care introduced by Weston Park Cancer Centre during the COVID-19 pandemic.
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The new way of delivering care is the result of a 10 year nationwide research study which involved thousands of patients recruited from NHS Trusts across the UK including Weston Park Cancer Centre

The trial findings showed that a lower quantity of radiotherapy given in fewer visits, but with higher daily doses was as safe and effective as the standard three-week therapy for those undergoing radiotherapy following surgery for early stage breast cancer.

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Brenda Garnett, 75, is among those to have benefited from the new way of delivering radiotherapy after a mammogram and biopsy revealed she had breast cancer.

Brenda Garnett, aged 75, of Eckington.Brenda Garnett, aged 75, of Eckington.
Brenda Garnett, aged 75, of Eckington.

“I’m a real stickler and insist on going for my breast cancer screening every three years,” she said.

"There was no outward sign of cancer, no lump, no puckering, nothing at all, but a few little white spots appeared on the mammogram. A biopsy confirmed the diagnosis, and I was put on tablets straight away. It was such a relief they had caught it so early.”

Brenda, who kept horses for 27 years and has been helping her daughter with her beekeeping business before the first national lockdown hit, underwent surgery to have the cancer removed on 1 June, and this was the followed up by a one week course of radiotherapy in September.

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“I live all the way out in Eckington, and I didn’t want to come on public transport as I was very vulnerable because of the operation,” she said.

The new advanced radiotherapy machine which is now up and running at Weston Park Cancer Centre.The new advanced radiotherapy machine which is now up and running at Weston Park Cancer Centre.
The new advanced radiotherapy machine which is now up and running at Weston Park Cancer Centre.

"It’s two buses there and back so it would have been a lot more of a problem getting a taxi every day if I would have had to go in for the radiotherapy for three weeks, particularly during the pandemic.

“I was glad to have the radiotherapy over five days as I suffer from frozen shoulders from when I used to work with horses so it’s real torture putting my hand back over my head for any length of time.

"The radiotherapy machine never bothered me, you just lie there and distract yourself, but the radiographers were so kind and considerate and really helped. Everyone has been brilliant.”

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In the UK, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.

Staff at Weston Park Cancer Centre with the new machine.Staff at Weston Park Cancer Centre with the new machine.
Staff at Weston Park Cancer Centre with the new machine.

Dr Stephen Tozer-Loft, head of radiotherapy physics, said: “We are delighted to have made the switch to fewer radiotherapy treatment sessions during the coronavirus pandemic. This is enabling breast cancer patients like Brenda to be treated with one-third of current radiotherapy sessions, saving 10 hospital visits.

“As one of the NHS Trusts involved in the groundbreaking study, we are proud to have now implemented this way of working to benefit patients like Brenda. We’d also like to thank the many patients who helped bring this amazing advance in cancer care to Weston Park, by agreeing to participate in a clinical trial, and which has given hope to many in these unprecedented times.”

Radiotherapy uses a very high-energy type of X-ray to destroy any cancer cells that may be left in the breast following surgery. The full dose of radiation is usually divided into a number of smaller doses called fractions. This allows healthy cells to recover between treatments.

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Patients receiving radiotherapy to the breast alone may be eligible for treatment in five treatments rather than fifteen. For other types of breast cancer, your clinical oncologist will discuss with you the number of treatments which are most suitable for your individual needs.

Weston Park’s reputation as a leading cancer centre has also been bolstered by the addition of a new radiotherapy machine.

The newest machine takes the total number of radiotherapy linear accelerator machines in situ at Weston Park Cancer to eight, one of the highest of any radiotherapy departments in the country.

Over the course of its lifetime, the machine will provide 100,000 complex treatments to around 6,500 patients undergoing cancer treatment.

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Around four in ten cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy, either curatively or to shrink, slow down its growth or help control symptoms.

Radiotherapy is a precise treatment which works by shrinking or destroying cancerous cells using high-energy radiation in carefully measured doses.

Dr Jackie Martin, clinical director, said: “As a leading cancer centre, we continually look to replace and upgrade our radiotherapy facilities so that we can provide the best possible care to our patients. This newest machine forms part of our ongoing commitment to this programme, and together with our other investments, will enable all cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy treatments to continue to have access to advanced, timely care.

With the number of cancer cases expected to continue to rise globally and the drive to diagnose patients earlier, the cutting-edge machines will also help us to meet the growing demand for innovative treatments and personalised cancer care.”

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One patient having radiotherapy on the newest machine is Catherine Todd, 79 of Woodseats. She said: “I am extremely grateful for the high standard of care I have been receiving from Weston Park Cancer Centre. It it is very comforting having a whole team of people looking after you. I can’t fault the care, all the staff are wonderful and caring and always put patients first. I feel privileged to have access to such an amazing department and to be benefiting from the high tech machines.”

Weston Park Cancer Centre is one of four specialist cancer hospitals and has a reputation for excellence and innovation. The Centre provides care and treatment to 1.8 million cancer patients in the South Yorkshire, North Derbyshire, Doncaster and Bassetlaw region, and is supported by Weston Park Cancer Charity.

The Centre celebrated 50 years of caring for cancer patients in the region on the 1 July 1970, the date it was officially opened by HRH Princess Anne.

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a digital subscription or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.