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New tool slashes length of radiotherapy needed for head cancer

Accuracy of new scanning method praised by experts

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The new MR-Linac machine has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of head and cancers. Photo: Stock Image

The new MR-Linac machine has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of head and cancers. Photo: Stock Image

The new MR-Linac machine has been hailed as a breakthrough in the treatment of head and cancers. Photo: Stock Image

A cancer tool that can drastically reduce the time some patients need radiotherapy for head and neck tumours has been developed by in the UK.

The new method uses a machine combining MRI imaging and X-rays to give an accurate look at the cancer’s location and automatically adjusts the aim of the treatment with 99.9pc accuracy.

This process can cut the time spent administering radiotherapy down from two hours to as little as 30 minutes, according to the researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust in London.

More than 1,400 people in Ireland are diagnosed with head or neck cancer every year, and treatment involves radiation being used to shrink a tumour while the patient lies motionless inside a mask that protects healthy tissues.

“When I started training, we basically laid someone down on the bed, put a plastic mask on them and took some X-rays from the front and the side,” said Prof Kevin Harrington, form the Institute of Cancer Research.

“We would then blast away at them every day for six or seven weeks, treating the same area irrespective of the fact that during the treatment the patient would lose up to 10pc of their body weight.

“Their body would shrink, the shape of the area we were radiating would shrink and, as they subsided and lost weight, the position of their head would slightly change and we wouldn’t adjust one iota to that, we just carried on the way we were.”

In an ideal world, scans would be done every day to create a bespoke programme, but this is very time-consuming, needing up to two hours per session.

By using the MR-Linac machine, the team of scientists found a middle ground between a customised method and the older approach.

“The technique cuts out a very laborious, time-consuming step without any detriment to our ability to target the cancer, as we found it to be 99.9pc as good as a fully bespoke programme,” said Prof Harrington.

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A study, published in the journal Clinical and Translational Radiation Oncology, found that of more than 50 doses of radiation delivered, just one exceeded the acceptable threshold.

In contrast, the previous approach scored just 92.4pc. (© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2022)

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]


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