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BIG FIRST | Cairns Cancer Centre Breaking New Ground

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A local cancer centre will become the first to deliver cutting-edge radiation therapy treatment for lung cancer.

Icon Cancer Centre Cairns is now delivering stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) treatment, an advanced technique used to treat small well-defined lung tumours, including tumours that have spread from a primary cancer.

The centre, located within Cairns Hospital, is the first oncology care provider in Cairns to offer this precision treatment technique, now eliminating the need for cancer patients in the region to travel long distances to access care, or down to Brisbane.

Local cancer patient 65-year-old Linda Cargill was first diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year after going to the GP for emphysema. Scans showed a small tumour in her right lung that would require radiation therapy treatment. Within days, Linda was able to receive this cutting-edge treatment at Icon Cancer Centre Cairns.

“There was of course initial shock when I was told I had cancer. Then there was the treatment. I was a little nervous about everything at the start. But once I met the doctor and the team at Icon they talked me through my treatment and made me feel at ease,” Mrs Cargill said.

The tumour on Linda’s right lung is very small, which means radiation therapy treatment is a suitable option.

However, as the tumour is so small, a special technique is recommended. Stereotactic radiation therapy delivers pinpoint precision radiation to individual tumours, ensuring safe and effective treatment directly to the tumour, while minimising radiation dose to surrounding healthy organs and tissue.

Linda was the first patient at Icon Cancer Centre Cairns to receive this new treatment technique and has had four sessions of radiation on her right lung.

“I’ve had four treatments across two weeks with no side effects. I’m only at the centre for about 40 minutes each time. Just knowing I am getting a treatment that has a good chance at killing my cancer is a relief,” Mrs Cargill said.

Previously, people were required to travel to Brisbane to receive this comparable care. “Previously, for a lot of these cancer cases we would need to radiate more of the area around the tumour,” says Icon Radiation Oncologist Dr Ariyanto Pramana.

“Stereotactic radiation therapy treatment allows us to directly target very small, well-defined tumours. It is a treatment option for some early stage lung cancer and is also suitable for patients with one or a few lung metastases (tumours). Large doses of radiation are delivered directly to the tumours with minimal side effects. Conventionally we would have had to treat a larger area of the affected lung over a longer period time. Another advantage of this treatment is the ability to monitor the patient’s lung motion while they are being treated to ensure the radiation is being delivered with absolute accuracy.”

“This treatment is also effective for patients with secondary brain cancer as previously we would radiate the entire brain. This can be uncomfortable for the patient, causing memory loss and increasing the intensity of side effects such as headaches, hair loss and nausea. It delivers safe and effective treatment while also reducing side effects allowing patients a better quality of life. Stereotactic radiation therapy can also be provided for bone cancers and secondary tumours that have spread and formed within various organs, particularly in the case of breast and prostate cancers. Icon Cancer Centre Cairns will look to offer this advanced treatment for these cancers in the future. Being able to offer the latest techniques to the local community is an important step in fulfilling our commitment to delivering the best possible cancer care to more patients, closer to home.”

For Linda, being able to receive this treatment close to home has made a significant difference.

“But the fact that we didn’t have to travel out of Cairns was an absolute lifesaver. It would have meant leaving home for two whole weeks and the cost of that would have been much too expensive. We live with our daughter at the moment, so it’s been very important for us to have family close by.”

Icon’s national network means they can leverage highly specialised techniques like stereotactic across their centres, including in regional areas.

The delivery of these techniques includes national training, extensive quality assurance checks and support to ensure treatment is delivered with the highest safety and quality.

Icon Cancer Centre Cairns has been delivering cancer care to the region for eight years and is dedicated to providing rapid access to ensure patients get world-class cancer care at the exact time they need it.

Since opening its doors, the centre has saved over almost 6,000,000 kilometres of travel for cancer patients requiring radiation therapy treatments.