World first cancer treatment gives hope to Melbourne mum
A groundbreaking approach to treating stage four cancer has given new hope to some patients diagnosed with the life threatening disease.
Melbourne woman Debbie was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in 2006, and had been classified as stage four since 2008.
One of the world’s first patients to receive radiation using a technique which combines surface guided radiation with breath expiration, Debbie was given another chance at life after a 14 year battle with metastatic disease.
"When I left the hospital on New Years Eve 2008 with a diagnosis of innumerable tumours in my lungs, a lytic legion on my sternum and another tumour in my liver, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would be possible to be cancer-free in 2022," says Debbie.
"Back then, I thought I was dying. I was writing letters to my four and six year old boys, imagining what their future would be like, and assuming I wouldn't be here to see it."
“I couldn’t have imagined that I would still be here to see them grow into young men, and potentially one day even hold my grandchildren."
The treatment, trialled by The Alfred’s Radiation Oncology team, involves combining surface guided radiation therapy with a breathing technique that has resulted in significant advancements in treatment precision.
The application of the End Expiration Breath Hold method, where a patient breathes out deeply and holds their breath while receiving short but high doses of radiation, ensures the body’s organs are held still, radically reducing risk to healthy tissue.
Radiation oncologist Associate Professor Sasha Senthi said the technique provides a treatment option to patients who had previously received significant amounts of radiotherapy and for whom traditional forms of radiation would be deemed too high risk.
“Each round of radiotherapy has an impact on a patient’s healthy tissue and organs, and there is a limit to what the body can handle,” says Dr Senthi.
“Using the End Expiration Breath Hold method means we can target tissue to a degree not seen before, allowing us to deliver the radiotherapy in much higher doses, and for shorter periods. This ultimately gives the patient the best chance of survival while minimising common side effects associated with cancer treatment.”
Debbie had radiotherapy sessions every two days for four weeks, and received the ‘all clear’ from Dr Senthi in November last year, and remains cancer free today.
“Two months after treatment concluded we did a PET scan on Debbie which showed no activity in the treated lesions or anywhere else,” said Dr Senthi. “This is an incredible response.”
“This result gives us great confidence in applying the technique in future to cancer patients who may no longer be candidates for traditional radiotherapy treatments, and we’re optimistic about the hope and health outcomes that will deliver for these people.”