Tech upgrade transforms treatment for 1,200 North-east cancer patients every year

Tech upgrade transforms treatment for 1,200 North-east cancer patients every year

Pioneering technology funded by two local charities is improving the treatment of 1,200 patients a year in the North-east of Scotland.  

Friends of ANCHOR and NHS Grampian Endowment Fund jointly backed the purchase of state-of-the-art software and a high-end computer server, at a total cost of £54,050. The technology is transforming advanced radiotherapy treatments that are delivered at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary.

Dr John McLellan, Head of Radiotherapy Physics at ARI, is at the helm of a team of clinical professionals  who are using the upgraded software, which is called ProSoma Core – a new, highly effective add-on to the standard software, ProSoma, which was funded by Friends of ANCHOR in 2006.

Dr McLellan said the tool would allow for faster treatment planning and more accuracy.

He said: “There’s a huge amount of computer work involved to determine where the beams of radiation should be positioned for patients who require complex radiotherapy treatment for their cancer. A single plan for one patient could take eight hours to create and relies on some significant computing power.

“ProSoma Core uses a sophisticated computer algorithm to create a 'map' of the radiation intensity that will be delivered throughout an individual patient’s body, as part of the planning process for their complex radiotherapy treatment. This information is essential for the optimal design of their individualised treatment and for independent verification of the radiation dose required. In short, it allows us to accurately target the treatment to certain areas of tumour for maximum effect, while protecting surrounding healthy tissue from radiation damage.”

The software is now used in every case of advanced radiotherapy treated at ARI, which translates to 1,200 patients a year.

It brings significant improvements over the previous method of dosage verification, which was labour intensive and time consuming – and it has the potential to benefit a simpler method of radiotherapy which is used for patients under palliative care. When put into use for these palliative treatments in the coming months, 500 further patients per year will benefit from faster, more reliable calculations and precise radiation optimisation. 

Dr McLellan added: “A key element in the palliative planning process is speed. We want to get these patients onto treatment quickly so that they can benefit from its effects as soon as possible.”

In addition, the upgrade has provided a vital tool as ARI expands the use of a new type of treatment called SABR [Stereotactic Ablative Body Radiotherapy] which is suited to patients who require abdominal and spinal radiotherapy for limited metastatic disease.

Dr McLellan explained: “The team in Aberdeen adopted this technique after UK-wide clinical trials demonstrated the benefits it brings to suitable patients. The dose distributions that we can create now are far beyond what we could do only a few years ago. In this case, we’re giving a very high dose in just a few treatment sessions to the tumour, all while we avoid surrounding vital organs.”

It is not the first time the department has benefitted from substantial tech funding. The existing ProSoma software, of which the ‘Core’ version is an upgrade, was also funded by Friends of ANCHOR in 2006, and is still in use 13 years later. In 2017, Friends of ANCHOR funded a film dosimetry system that was an important tool in the implementation of SABR for lung tumours.

Dr McLellan added: “We’re very grateful to Friends of ANCHOR for its ongoing support as we continually strive to bring the best possible radiotherapy treatments to North-east patients. ProSoma has become an essential tool in the design of the individualised treatment plans needed for each of our radiotherapy patients. In the years since the original software was provided, techniques and technology have advanced rapidly and we are constantly adapting our processes to provide the best treatments possible. This latest investment in Core allows us to do just that.”

Friends of ANCHOR Chairman Jim Milne added: “The radiotherapy department in Aberdeen is constantly leading the way in new technology that will bring significant benefit to the patients and the teams treating them. We’re very pleased to have been able to further support the radiotherapy physics department and the existing ProSoma service with this upgrade, which is evidence of our ongoing commitment to help provide the best possible care.

Sheena Lonchay, Operational Manager for NHS Grampian Endowment Fund, said: “As the leading health charity for Grampian, we will always continue to provide funding for cutting edge technology that puts the patients at the heart of what we do. We are delighted to be working jointly with Friends of ANCHOR to fund the best possible cancer treatment for our Grampian patients.”