Region’s cancer patients to benefit from innovative treatment

The Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR) clinical team at the Freeman Hospital.
The Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR) clinical team at the Freeman Hospital.

More cancer patients in the North East will soon benefit from an innovative form of radiotherapy, as part of a £15million investment by NHS England.

The Freeman Hospital’s Northern Centre for Cancer Care (NCCC), Newcastle, was today named as one of only 17 cancer centres in the UK to take part in an exciting new initiative.

NHS England has pledged to commit £15million over three years to evaluate and treat cancer patients with a highly precise type of Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (also known as SABR). This pledge is part of their Commissioning Through Evaluation programme, set up to provide patients with access to treatments not routinely available on the NHS.

The three-year programme aims to increase access to specialist radiotherapy services, only available at the most advanced cancer centres like NCCC, one of the few places in the country currently able to offer cutting edge radiotherapy technology such as SABR.

SABR is a new type of radiotherapy which allows the targeting of cancers with a high degree of accuracy, minimising radiation dose and so minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. This means that a higher-dose radiotherapy treatment can be given in just a few sessions, typically three or five outpatient attendances.

Evidence shows that SABR can be effective when used to treat non-small cell lung cancer and the NHS already funds this. There is less clinical evidence to show that SABR is effective for other cancers. To gather the evidence it needs, NHS England is working with the clinical and research community to fully assess the use of SABR to treat a range of cancer indications.

Cancer experts at Newcastle’s NCCC are delighted to have been chosen after a competitive selection process and they all acknowledge that this fantastic result would not have been achieved without being able to offer access to the SABR treatment.

Bringing the SABR technology to the North East was only made possible thanks to a special collaboration between the Newcastle upon Tyne NHS Foundation Trust and local hospital charities – the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Charlie Bear for Cancer Care and the Newcastle Healthcare Charity. Through the support and generosity of people from all over the north and beyond, who have made countless donations to these local charities, the NCCC was provided with funding of £1.2million to contribute towards the purchase of this new technology, only previously available in London.

Dr Philip Atherton, consultant clinical oncologist, said: “I am proud to be a part of the team which has been successful in bringing this revolutionary new treatment to the people of the North East.

“We have been using SABR to treat people with small lung tumours for just over a year now, and this funding will allow us to extend this to include people with cancer which has spread to up to three other parts of the body, for example to the lung, liver or bone. This is also known as oligometastatic disease.

“This is a really exciting time to be working in the field of cancer, and in particular, radiotherapy. It is estimated that four out of every 10 people cured of cancer will have had radiotherapy as part of their treatment, and recent advances mean that we are now able to treat more and more complex cases with increasingly successful outcomes and fewer side effects.”

Sir Leonard Fenwick, chief executive at Newcastle Hospitals, added: “This is truly fantastic news and well deserved of our highly-skilled and dedicated team at NCCC whose concerted efforts have ensured that the people of this region can benefit from the latest treatment regimes.

“People in the north deserve the best and the Newcastle Hospitals is proud to be able to offer them the highest specification of stereotactic radiotherapy service available today. What makes our suite of radiotherapy equipment so special is the enhanced treatment capabilities, only made possible thanks to the extraordinary charitable funding efforts we have seen from people of all walks of life across the region.”

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: “This is a great day for hundreds of cancer patients who will now be able to access this cutting-edge innovative treatment up and down the country. This programme will allow us to assess this promising type of radiotherapy while enabling people who may benefit to access it as close to home as possible.”