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NZBCF joins call for new radiation therapy treatment

NZBCF joins call for new radiation therapy treatment in public hospitals

The NZ Breast Cancer Foundation has joined leading doctors in calling for intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT) to be made available to Kiwi breast cancer patients in public hospitals. IORT offers patients significant advantages, while delivering the same level of safe, effective treatment as traditional radiation.

With IORT, eligible patients have a single dose of radiation delivered directly to the tumour site during their breast cancer surgery, rather than the current regimen of 15 to 25 doses of whole breast radiation. It’s estimated that up to 30% of patients have the kind of early stage breast cancers that are suited to IORT.

The purpose of radiation therapy is to help prevent breast cancer coming back; clinical trials have shown IORT delivered during lumpectomy surgery to be as effective as whole breast radiation. It has major advantages for patients who might otherwise have to travel far from home, away from their families, for daily radiation in a specialist centre, or those who have to take time off work for daily treatments. Currently, some women choose mastectomy, a radical surgery, over the less complicated lumpectomy so they can skip radiation – this results in higher risk and longer recovery time for the patient, and much higher cost to the health system. Other patients decline radiation to economic or family reasons, and end up with an increased risk of their cancer coming back.

“IORT has been proven safe and effective – as we see it, it’s a win for the patient and for the health system,” said Evangelia Henderson, chief executive at the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation. “The DHBs really need to step up and figure out how they can introduce this in a way that works for everyone. In the meantime, our advice to women is to ask your surgeon if you can have IORT. We need to push for it from all sides.”

She said the NZBCF would be happy to hear from DHBs if there are ways in which it can provide practical support.

IORT is already available in New Zealand through a private clinic in Auckland; several dozen patients have had the treatment to date. The National Health Committee signed off on the treatment, using the Intrabeam device, as clinically effective early in 2016. The project plan for the introduction of IORT has now been passed to the Ministry of Health


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