A pioneering breast cancer treatment that replaces weeks of radiotherapy with a single, targeted shot is set to be offered on the NHS. The technique, called intra-operative radiation, is suitable only for patients who have caught their cancer early and have surgery to remove the tumour. As part of that surgery, a probe is inserted into the breast and delivers radiation to the exact site of the cancer for about half an hour.
Tests on over 2000 patients suggest the technique has a similar level of effectiveness as conventional radiotherapy, and should greatly reduce cost for the NHS as well as stress and inconvenience to patients, who should avoid the lengthy sequence of return hospital visits for conventional radiotherapy sessions. The technique should also avoid potential damage to other organs, such as the heart, lungs and oesophagus, which are at risk during ordinary radiotherapy treatment.
Because the technique is new, there is no data on how it would compare, so the pros and cons should be made clear to patients. Prof Carole Longson, director of health technology evaluation at NICE, said: “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.”
A typical radiotherapy department will spend around 30% of its time dealing with breast cancer.
Previous estimates have suggested a shift to intra-operative radiation could free up resources and save the NHS £15m a year.