25.10.2017

New radiotherapy machine to deliver cutting edge treatment for cancer patients at the Freeman Hospital

Cancer patients across the region are now benefiting from greater cutting edge treatment at the Newcastle Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust thanks to a national £130 million investment programme.

Set up by NHS England to modernise radiotherapy treatment, the funding has enabled the replacement of one of Newcastle’s older machines with one of the most advanced models available today.

The new True Beam Linear Accelerator (LINAC) machine arrived at the Freeman Hospital’s Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC) earlier this year and has been treating patients from mid September.

The new LINAC’s advanced functionality offers greater versatility to Newcastle’s cancer experts when developing radiotherapy treatments specifically tailored to the individual patient’s needs. 

 

New LINAC Truebeam Radiotherapy Machine at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

Dr John Frew, consultant clinical oncologist and clinical head of radiotherapy at NCCC explains: “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.

“Being named as one of 15 national cancer centres to benefit from the first wave of NHS England’s funding has allowed us to replace a 10 year old linear accelerator with a sophisticated Varian Truebeam LINAC.

“Its enhanced functionality means we can offer even more state-of-the-art radiotherapy, more quickly and effectively than ever before, underlining our commitment to provide the best possible treatment to the hundreds of cancer patients we see each year across the region.”

LINAC Radiotherapy machine with precisioning lasers

Newcastle’s new LINACcomplements the existing fleet of ‘high spec’ machines and uses advanced scanning technology, alongside computerised 3D treatment planning to deliver radiotherapy.

Small, thin beams of high energy 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. 

Sharron Driver, NCCC’s Radiotherapy Services Manager explains: “As well as the latest planning, imaging and treatment techniques, the new Varian’s state-of-the-art system includes what is called a “6 Degrees of Freedom” treatment couch for improved precision 

“This special couch, combined with the advanced imaging functionality allows us to enhance the patient position. This enables us to treat the tumour whilst minimising exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.”

The treatment room 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.

Louise Robson, Joint Acting Chief Executive at the Newcastle Hospitals says: “We’re very pleased to be delivering high precision treatment on our newest arrival in the radiotherapy suite at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care.

“Cancer can be devastating for patients and their families. Our outstanding staff are extremely proud to be able to offer the most advanced treatments with minimal side effects.”

Charlotte Bilby from North Shields

Charlotte Bilby from North Shields has just completed her 20th and final radiotherapy treatment on the new LINAC for breast cancer.

A lecturer in criminology at Northumbria University, Charlotte found a lump in her right breast when she was in the shower.  Charlotte explains: “I was finding one of my breasts unusually itchy and sometimes very pink, especially when I got out of the shower.

Charlotte Bilby from North Shields

“I didn’t have any of the symptoms you hear about, and there isn’t any family history of breast cancer so I kept thinking it might be a new bra or change in fabric conditioner.”

However, after about six weeks Charlotte felt a hard lump. She says: “It was about two and a half centimetres all the way round and felt like a mini plum tomato. I went to see my GP who referred me to a breast consultant.”

After tests which confirmed the lump was cancerous, Charlotte had surgery including a wide local excision and full node clearance at North Tyneside General Hospital – all on her 44th birthday.

The surgery was followed by five months of chemotherapy and then radiotherapy at Freeman Hospital’s NCCC.

Charlotte says: “I have to say that I have found the whole process to be very professional. Everyone has been so incredibly kind. What always delights me is everyone remembers who you are and your name. This has been really important to me.

“The staff at both North Tyneside and the cancer centre have been fabulous. All the radiotherapy staff have been amazing and I haven’t felt frightened. I know you hear everything is stretched in the NHS but, as a patient I never saw that. . The level of care has been quite something.”

“I’ve felt extremely reassured that I’ve been receiving the very best treatment using the latest technology available today.”

Tracey Hutchison from Bearpark, Durham

Tracey Hutchison from Bearpark in County Durham has been receiving treatment for breast cancer on the new LINAC.

The 45 year old mother of two young sons found a hard lump on self examination. She didn’t have any of the symptoms associated with breast cancer and says she was the healthiest she had ever felt.

Tracey Hutchison from Bearpark, Durham

Tracey says: “I go regularly to the gym, I don’t smoke and there’s no family history yet I found a lump.  I had all the tests which confirmed it was cancerous and so I had surgery to remove the lump as well as the area around it and affected lymph nodes.

Tracey needed six sessions of chemotherapy and 20 sessions of radiotherapy over 4 weeks. She finishes her radiotherapy this week.

“My life will never be the same again. I had no idea how cancer and the treatments can affect you but when I finish my radiotherapy this week, I will be approaching my life with a very different outlook, for both myself and my family.”

Tracey had paid tribute to all the staff at NCCC. She says: “It’s clear they are very passionate about what they do and I have always felt in very capable hands.  One thing I’ve been surprised by is how quickly the sessions have been – the staff work really efficiently.

“Also, I had no idea Daft as a Brush helped patients as far afield as Durham and I have to say they take the stress out of thinking about travelling and parking. It’s run by volunteers and each has their own story. They’ve been wonderful.”

ENDS

For further information:

Lynn Watson, Communications Officer for the Newcastle Hospitals : 0191 223 1543  lynn.watson@nuth.nhs.uk 

NOTES TO EDITORS

The Radiotherapy Department at NCCC is the largest of its kind in the region receiving over 4,500 new patient referrals each year from all over the North East and Cumbria.

Approximately half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. Depending on where they are being treated, the length of a patient’s treatment course may vary from a single treatment to over six weeks.

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