Cancer patients are now benefiting from a combination of cutting edge radiotherapy technology, which was previously only available in London.
Patients with lung cancer are already receiving treatment in the new stereotactic radiotherapy facility at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital, with scope to extend treatment to other tumour sites in both children and adults.
The stereotactic radiotherapy system uses detailed scans and computerised 4D treatment planning to deliver radiation with tremendous accuracy. Small, thin beams of radiation are directed from different angles to meet at the tumour. The tumour receives a high dose of radiation, while the surrounding healthy tissues receive a reduced dose.
Purchase of the new technology has been made possible thanks to a special collaboration between the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and local hospital charities – including £850,000 from the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.
The state-of-the-art system includes a Novalis Truebeam STX linear accelerator, a BrainLab planning system, 6 Degrees of Freedom treatment couch and ExacTrac patient positioning. It delivers stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) and stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), meaning extremely high doses of radiation can be delivered with pin-point, multi-dimensional accuracy to malignant and benign tumours that are difficult to treat by surgery or conventional radiotherapy.
Damage to surrounding tissue is minimal, vastly reducing potential side effects and treatment is delivered in just a few short radiotherapy sessions instead of weeks of conventional radiotherapy.
Dr Ian Pedley, consultant clinical oncologist and clinical director for NCCC explains: “Previously, this combination of technology has only been available in London.
“The Novalis Truebeam STX is in itself a very exciting piece of up-to-the-minute cancer treatment technology and has been funded by the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
“But because of the additional funding from the charities we’ve been able to dramatically enhance the stereotactic radiotherapy unit with BrainLab, 6 Degrees of Freedom treatment couch and ExacTrac patient positioning, which means the linear accelerator can deliver treatment to sub millimetre accuracy with high doses of radiation.
“Because the new system allows high doses of radiation to be delivered to the tumour in a short amount of time, the treatment can be completed in one to five days rather than over a period of weeks. The extreme accuracy also minimises the effect of radiotherapy on nearby organs.
“We’re thrilled to be able to offer our patients access to the very best treatment available.”
The stereotactic unit also features a luminous SkyCeiling. This is a virtual skylight which gives the illusion of real sky views to alleviate stress, promote patient relaxation, provide positive distraction and improve the patient experience.
In December 2011, Sir John Hall, a patron of Charlie Bear for Cancer Care, a fund dedicated to raising money for the NCCC at the Freeman Hospital, launched an appeal to bring this combination of radiotherapy technology to the region. In less than one year, thanks to the overwhelming generosity and fundraising efforts of the public, the Charlie Bear appeal raised £200,000.
In November 2012, the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation then made a massive £850,000 contribution to the appeal (their biggest single contribution) which, with a £1.8 million investment from the Trust and an additional contribution of £150,000 from the Newcastle Healthcare Charity, was the amount needed to finally secure the new equipment for the NCCC.
The money contributed by the charities represents thousands of generous donations and amazing individual and group fundraising efforts from ordinary people across the country and beyond.
Having the equipment at the NCCC will enable cancer patients from the North East and Cumbria to be treated more quickly and effectively than ever before.
Sir Leonard Fenwick, Chief Executive for the Newcastle Hospitals says: “I am immensely proud of the world class services we are able to offer here at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care at the Freeman Hospital. Since we opened our doors in 2009, our ambition has always been to give all our patients, wherever they come from, the best possible chance to beat cancer.
“The new stereotactic radiosurgery and radiotherapy system now installed at the NCCC uses a combination of technologies only previously available in London and puts us at the forefront of innovation in healthcare, underlining our commitment to provide the best possible treatment.”
Professor Ruth Plummer, a trustee of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and director of the Sir Bobby Robson Cancer Trials Research Centre, says: “This is exactly the kind of world class cancer facility that Sir Bobby envisaged when he launched his charity.
“At the beginning, he had no idea how enthusiastic and generous people would be and he was so humbled by it, and for all the Trustees this feeling remains.
“We’re very conscious that the £850,000 the charity’s contributed to this facility has been raised through an awful lot of coffee mornings, Great North Runs and more. Everyone who has contributed to the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation in any way has helped us bring this fantastic facility to the region and we hope they share our pride.”
Sir John Hall, a patron of Charlie Bear for Cancer Care, is delighted that the facility is now operational: “Back in December 2011 I was honoured to be asked to launch the Charlie Bear for Cancer Care Appeal to help deliver this state-of-the-art radiotherapy to our region.
“Being a cancer patient myself, the appeal was extremely close to my heart. I could not have imagined the overwhelming generosity of the north east public who have given so much to all three hospital charities and enabled the Trust to bring this technology to the Northern Centre for Cancer Care at the Freeman.
“I want to say a very big thank you to everyone who has contributed. You have helped to change the face of cancer treatment in the North East and Cumbria. As the dedicated charitable fund for the NCCC Charlie Bear for Cancer Care will continue to help raise funds for local people with cancer and enable the NCCC to provide more sophisticated equipment, additional patient comforts, specialist staff training and funding of local research projects to develop new treatments and technologies still further.”
Speaking on behalf of the Trustees of the Newcastle Healthcare Charity, Chairman Ken Grey adds: “The Newcastle Healthcare Charity is proud to have been able to make such a large contribution of £150,000 towards bringing this wonderful technology to our region.
“We are extremely grateful to all those people whose generous donations have enabled this to happen. They can be sure that their contributions have helped to make the NCCC a world class facility which will directly benefit their friends, family, neighbours and the region as a whole for years to come.”