EARLY stage lung cancer patients unable to undergo surgery are being offered a life-line with hi-tech radiation therapy.
Stereotactic radiation treatment uses advanced imaging technology to deliver a high dose of radiation, very accurately and precisely to a tumour, sparing the surrounding sensitive organ.
With conventional radiation therapy a patient would have to undergo 10-minute treatments every day for six weeks, wrestling with side-effects such as extreme tiredness.
But only four stereotactic treatments are required and radiation oncologist Tee Lim says side-effects are negligible, with patients only feeling some tiredness about a week after treatment.
“It’s a great option for patients who are not suitable for surgery: they may be too old or have other heart or lung problems, and anaesthetic is too risky,” he says.
“Stereotactic provides six times the strength of a conventional radiation dose, and is suitable for treating tumours less than five centimetre in diameter — generally early-stage cancers.
“With conventional radiation treatment the dose is not as precise, so there is more danger of damaging surrounding tissue and side-effects, including chest pain and depending on the location, inflammation of the oesophagus.”
Genesis Cancer Care in Perth was the first clinic in WA, and one of the first nationwide, to start using stereotactic radiation treatment in 2010.
Since then Dr Lim has treated over 100 cases with the system and notes that 90 per cent of his patients have been smokers.
Thankfully there are signs that Australia could be moving towards a smoke-free generation: last year a report published in the Public Health Research and Practice journal revealed that the rate of smoking among young people in Australia had dropped to a record low.
The data from New South Wales showed that in the past 20 years, the number of adolescents smoking has reduced by more than 70 per cent.
Dr Lim predicts that over the next few decades there will be a surge in the number of lung cancer cases in developing countries like India, China and regions in South East Asia where smoking is still widespread, cigarettes are cheap, and public education campaigns are non-existent.
“In the western world, heart disease rates are coming down and cancer is stabilising a bit,” Dr Lim says.
“Unfortunately, over the next ten to 20 years in Asian countries I think you will probably see a spike in cancer and heart disease.”