cancer radiotherapy machine

First UK patient undergoes pioneering cancer tumour therapy treatment

Image credit: pa

A magnetic resonance linear accelerator (MR Linac) machine, which could eventually cure cancer in just a single treatment, has been used on a UK patient for the first time.

The MR Linac is the first technology in the world to simultaneously generate magnetic resonance images and deliver X-ray radiation beams, allowing radiotherapy to be adjusted in real time and delivered more accurately than standard machines.

The Royal Marsden Hospital and Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in London is only the third centre in the world to use the technology, which can track the shifting position of tumours in real time.

This technology will be particularly effective for cancers that change position through breathing, bladder filling or bowel changes and should reduce the unpleasant side-effects for the patient.

For example, tumours in the prostate, lung, bladder and bowel would be targeted in real time, allowing the radiation beams to be adjusted with enhanced precision during the course of treatment.

Barry Dolling, 65, who was diagnosed with early prostate cancer in April, said he “jumped at the chance” to be the first in the country to try the technology.

He will receive four weeks of radiotherapy as part of a small clinical trial of patients with localised prostate cancer at the Royal Marsden, the culmination of six years of work.

Professor Uwe Oelfke, head of the joint department of physics at the ICR and Royal Marsden, who leads the project, said: “For us, it is a dream come true, because for the first time we can actually see what we are treating.

“We can see the tumour when it’s moving, we can see the organs that are raised, we can see daily changes like shrinking of tumours or swelling of tissues. You can react to everything that’s happening.”

Clinicians using the machine take an MRI scan of the patient, before designing a plan for radiotherapy for that day, reacting to any changes in the anatomy.

The UK trial will initially examine prostate cancer, but it is hoped the machine will improve radiotherapy for a wide range of cancers, including hard-to-treat lung and pancreatic cancers.

Dr Alison Tree, consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Marsden and lead investigator of the trial, said: “Prostate cancer responds most effectively to large doses of radiation delivered over a short period of time. However, because the prostate lies close to the rectum, high doses risk damaging the rectum and increasing side-effects.

“With the MR Linac we can better target the prostate while avoiding the rectum, so we can safely deliver higher doses of radiation. It is possible that this groundbreaking precision will one day make it possible to cure prostate cancer in a single treatment.”

Tree added a note of caution, saying: “That is science fiction at the moment, unfortunately, but that’s our dream really, that we can use the precision of this technology to test shorter ways of delivering radiotherapy.”

Dolling, a father-of-two from Selsdon, Surrey, said the limited side-effects of the treatment allows him to continue working, playing golf and cycling.

In March, researchers started using tiny lumps of gold to minimise the side effects of chemotherapy, to tailor existing cancer treatments to individual needs and to melt tumours with a sudden blast of heat. 

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