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Medical breakthrough for Australia’s most common cancer.

After radiation therapy

Image supplied by Evan Ng

After radiation therapy

Kate Purnell

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Radiation therapy has undergone major advances over the past five years, particularly as a therapy for treating skin cancer.

A nationwide team of radiation oncologists have been applying new radiotherapy techniques when treating patients suffering from the most common types of skin cancer.

The results continue to demonstrate the impressive level of effectiveness and success in eradicating Australia’s most prevalent type of cancer.

Surgery and topical creams are currently the most common treatments in the nation for skin cancer. However, these options aren’t suitable for all patients and come with potential problems, including: invasive procedures, poor recovery, scarring and burning.

Out of the three types of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinomas (SCC) and basal cell carcinomas (BCC) respond very well to radiation therapy. The best treatment for melanoma is still surgical.

Dr Evan Ng is a leading radiation oncologist in Perth practising the evolving radiotherapy techniques for skin cancer treatment.

According to Dr Ng, the success rates after radiotherapy treatment for SCC is 96-97% and BCC is roughly 99.9%.

Continued software developments allow for radiotherapy machinery to provide very accurate treatments.

When commenting on the improved accuracy of the machinery Dr Ng said the targets are “more accurate more precise and more controlled”.

He explained the new technology allows the doctor to alter the beam into any possible size or shape as well as adjust the beam’s intensity.

Surgery can be problematic for patients with skin cancers on their noses and ears, as the lack of excess skin makes it a difficult task for surgeons to operate without leaving a defect or visible scars.

Radiotherapy acts as an ideal alternative.

Radiotherapy leaves no visible marks due to its non-invasive procedure.

The above image depicts a before and after shot of a patient with skin cancers on his scalp who had undergone radiation therapy.

Another benefit of new radiotherapy techniques for skin cancer treatment is the ability to treat curved surfaces.

Earlier forms could only treat flat surfaces, said Dr Ng.

This is very useful as many areas prone to skin cancer on the human body are curved rather than flat; such as the face, head and limbs.

The linear accelerator is the machine used when delivering doses for skin cancer.

To ensure optimum health and safety standards for both patients and medical staff, the linear accelerator is stored in a sealed concrete room and electrically charged. This means that radiation is only formed and transmitted when the machine is on.

These new techniques draw a stark contrast between updated and outdated methods.

Radiation therapy has long been used to treat skin cancers. However, older techniques saw patients and doctors being subject to troubling levels of radiation.

Professor Gerald Fogarty, a radiation oncologist, detailed concerning levels of exposure to radiation were some of the primary concerns of outdated radiotherapy techniques.

His findings and observations were published in the Biomedical Journal of Scientific and Technical research last year.

Dr Ng and many other radiation oncologists are compiling their ongoing clinical data into the ‘National Dermatology and Radiation Oncology Registry.’

As this is the first of its kind in Australia, upon completion it will be a useful piece of literature detailing the effect modern radiotherapy techniques have on skin cancer treatment.

Even with the new technology, the length of a course of treatment may pose an issue for some potential candidates. Currently patients undergoing radiotherapy for skin cancer treatment are required to come in for fifteen to twenty minute sessions, five days a week for three to six weeks.

The time factor is unlikely to change any time soon, Dr Ng said.

Referrer Engagement Manager at Genesis Care Aileen Eiszele said radiotherapy treatment for skin cancer is “quite affordable.”

She recommends interested patients arrange for a referral to a radiation oncologist from their GP or treating specialist.

Genesis Care has practices in Bunbury, Joondalup, Wembley and at Fiona Stanley Hospital where radiation therapy for skin cancer treatment is available.

A new centre in Mandurah is set to open in July.

Radiation therapy as a means for treating skin cancer is still overlooked as a primary option for treatment, even though it may provide better outcomes for many patients.

A lack of knowledge and awareness by health professionals and the public is the cause, according to Dr Ng.

He added that continued education in the medical sector and to the general public will eventually spark change.

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About the Writer
Kate Purnell, Reporter

Kate is a passionate young journalist with an acute interest in politics and foreign affairs. She is particularly focused on the local impacts of national...

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Medical breakthrough for Australia’s most common cancer.