WORLD STAGE: North Coast Cancer Institute Lismore radiation oncologist Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare is leading a world first evaluation which examined the long-term outcomes of the techniques to combat breast cancer.
WORLD STAGE: North Coast Cancer Institute Lismore radiation oncologist Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare is leading a world first evaluation which examined the long-term outcomes of the techniques to combat breast cancer.

New hope for Northern Rivers women with breast cancer

THERE'S new hope for the 260 women diagnosed annually with breast cancer in northern NSW.

According to the Northern NSW Local Health District, local breast cancer patients are experiencing excellent results and fewer treatment side effects thanks to modern radiation therapy techniques used at the North Coast and Mid North Coast Cancer Institutes.

So successful are the techniques that a team led by local cancer experts has published an Australian-first evaluation of the curative approach.

Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare, a radiation oncologist working in the Northern NSW and Mid North Coast Local Health Districts, led the evaluation which examined the long-term outcomes of the techniques.

"Breast cancer can be cured with a combination of surgery and post-operative radiation therapy," he said.

"We have treated more than 3500 women with curative breast radiation in the Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie radiation oncology centres at the Mid North Coast Cancer Institute (MNCCI) and the North Coast Cancer Institute (NCCI) centre in Lismore."

The techniques evaluated include hypofractionation (treating in fewer sessions), intensitymodulated radiation therapy (highly targeted) and treating women in the prone (face down) position.

"These new techniques are able to substantially reduce the side-effects of treatment, in particular, prone breast positioning is beneficial as radiation is distributed evenly and accurately, limiting exposure to the rest of the body," Prof Shakespeare said.

"The combination of these three techniques has been in use at the MNCCI and NCCI since 2012, and we were one of the first centres in Australia to adopt this method."

The evaluation followed 155 patients from the Lismore, Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour areas who were treated using this technique, and the results were excellent.

"Our report is the first of its kind in Australia, and only the second publication of its kind in the world," he said.

"We report on outcomes five years after radiation therapy.

"In our evaluation no patient had a cancer recurrence in the treated breast.

"We also found that no patient had significant side effects, and all evaluated patients rated their cosmetic outcome as good or excellent."

The outcomes after using this technique have been published in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists' Journal of Medical Imaging and Radiation Oncology.

The Northern NSW Local Health District invested $25.3 million in Cancer Services across the region in 2019-20.


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