New high precision equipment at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital has removed the need for permanent tattoo markings on patients.
Until now, breast cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy had no option but to have tattoo marks on their body to align radiotherapy treatment.
St. Vincent’s Private Hospital (SVPH) has become the first hospital in Ireland to pioneer new technology which removes the need for permanent skin markings – traditionally a cause of significant distress to patients who have been recently diagnosed with cancer – and a continuous reminder of the disease after their cancer has gone.
The new, high precision, innovative technology called Surface Guided Radiotherapy (SGRT) offers an alternative to tattoos by using a 3D optical scan of the body surface to set up and verify the patient’s position against their CT planning reference scan. Using over twenty thousand reference points on the patient’s skin surface the technology can track and detect motion with sub-millimetre accuracy. It has already been used on over 80 patients during a pilot of the technology and since introduced on 19th November 15 breast cancer patients have been treated without tattoos.
Dr. Gerard McVey, Consultant Oncologist, St. Vincent’s Private Hospital said: “One of the most important aspects of radiation treatment is precision. Our new equipment uses highly precise and cutting-edge technology which allows us to apply pinpoint accuracy to the treatment area as well as reducing unnecessary dosages. Following the successful pilot of this new technology, we are pleased to have now implemented the SGRT technique to all breast cancer patients utilising surface reference points or ‘virtual’ tattoos.
“Receiving a cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be devastating and the psychological impact on the patient is significant. This new equipment allows us to apply radiation treatment in a highly timely and targeted manner – without needing to permanently mark the patient to deliver the treatment. All of this is incredibly positive and is likely to result in stronger health outcomes for the patient both physically and psychologically. They can move on with their lives without a constant physical reminder of what they have gone through.” McVey continued.
One of the first patient’s to benefit from the new technology said: “Getting a cancer diagnosis was devastating and once the initial shock passes, all you want to do is start the treatment as soon as possible and get back to the life you had before you were sick. Nobody ever tells you, however, that you will be faced with a daily reminder for the rest of your life about your illness through these permanent tattoo markings. I’m a mother with young children and I didn’t want to tell them I was sick. I was so relieved when they told me in the hospital that I didn’t need tattoos anymore – which might sound minor considering everything else I was going through but it really mattered. I wanted to look forward and envisage a life without cancer and I certainly didn’t need any unnecessary war wounds or visible marks on my body which I would have to explain – and remind me of what I had gone through”
The Oncology and Haematology multidisciplinary service and team at St. Vincent’s Private Hospital is one of the most progressive in Irish private medicine. It has led the way, since the mid 1970s, embracing new advances in pharmacology, medicine and nursing. Latest advances in this area have included the introduction of “Cold Cap” machines which help some women keep their hair during chemotherapy. The introduction of tattoo-less radiotherapy is another step in ensuring that the side effects of cancer treatment are kept to a minimum.
Called AlignRT, the technology used by SVPH for SGRT is also used for Deep Inspiration Breath-Hold (DIBH), which is a method of delivering radiotherapy while limiting radiation exposure to the heart and lungs. The treatment technique involves a patient holding their breath during treatment. Treatment is only delivered at certain points in the breathing cycle, and this is facilitated effectively as AlignRT controls the treatment delivery. Since the relative positions of organs in the chest naturally changes during breathing, this allows treatment to be delivered to the target while other organs are in the optimal position to receive least dose. This treatment technique is currently used at SVPH primarily for left-sided breast cancer treatment.