Intraoperative radiation should be available in the NZ public health system

BCAC is pushing for the public health system to introduce ‘intraoperative radiotherapy’ for women with low risk early breast cancer. 

Intraoperative radiotherapy has recently been introduced to New Zealand, but is currently only available to eligible patients who pay for the treatment privately.  

The treatment uses the Intrabeam technology and involves a single dose of radiotherapy which is given at the breast tumour site during surgery for breast cancer.  It means those treated can avoid weeks of radiation treatment.

BCAC has written to the National Health Committee (NHC) to ask that this new technology be adopted in the public health system as soon as possible.  The NHC advises the Minister of Health on health technologies.

BCAC chair, Libby Burgess, says intraoperative radiotherapy is a wonderful advance for women with low-risk early breast cancer and a way of saving time and money for the public health system. 

“The delivery of surgery and radiotherapy during a single operation will eliminate weeks of daily trips to the clinic, allowing women to avoid ongoing stress and inconvenience and return to their normal lives much faster.

“It will also reduce the level of time and resource needed to treat qualifying patients and has the potential to reduce waiting times for the treatment of other patients needing standard external beam radiation using conventional linear accelerator machines.”   

The advantages to patients who receive intraoperative radiation treatment include:

  • a reduction in radiation treatment time 
  •  minimised exposure to healthy tissue and organs, such as the ribs, lungs, heart and opposite breast
  • no treatment delay for patients who must also undergo chemotherapy as part of their breast cancer treatment
  • no travel required to a radiotherapy centre for up to six weeks of daily treatment.

The TARGIT-A (Targeted Intra-operative Radiotherapy) clinical trial has shown the recurrence rate for women receiving intraoperative radiation was not significantly different from those who received standard external beam radiation therapy.  This study also showed that there was no difference in breast cancer mortality between the two groups.

Libby says intraoperative radiation therapy using Intrabeam is gaining rapid and wide updake around the world and as BCAC is committed to ensuring New Zealand women receive world-class treatment we’d like to see it rolled out here as soon as possible.

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