Greater choice for breast cancer patients in the Hunter region

Icon Wrtiers / 24 Nov, 2022

A massive technological advancement means a greater choice for breast cancer patients.

Radiation therapy for breast cancer traditionally requires patients to receive small but permanent tattoos on their chest to help the therapist deliver treatment to the right location.

Local patients in the Hunter region now have access to tattooless treatment thanks to advanced technology available at Icon Cancer Centre Maitland.

Morpeth local, Merridy Childs, is one of the first women to benefit from state-of-the-art treatment using Varian’s IDENTIFY™ Surface Guidance System. This advanced technology delivers highly accurate radiation treatment without the need to have permanent tattoo marks. The 71-year-old has battled cancer on three separate occasions. In 2000, Merridy was diagnosed with breast cancer in her left breast. In 2004 she was delivered the shocking news she had bowel cancer. After nearly 18 years cancer-free, Merridy was struck down with the disease for a third time when “something didn’t feel right” in her right breast.

“I was experiencing sharp, warm feelings deep in my right breast. It just didn’t feel right. I hadn’t felt anything like it before. I went to my GP, and she said she didn’t think I had anything to worry about but given my history with cancer they would check it out and that’s when they discovered it. I was flying to Adelaide the next day, so I arranged to see a specialist there and the scans revealed it was stage 1 breast cancer. When I got back to NSW, I had a lumpectomy and then radiation therapy at Icon Cancer Centre in Maitland. I had 15 sessions of radiation therapy, starting in mid-May and finishing in early June,” Merridy said.

Merridy says everyone’s cancer journey is unique and she is pleased women now have a choice when it comes to receiving tattoo marks as part of their radiation treatment.

“We all share part of the physical journey, which includes multiple interventions, visiting many doctors, surgery or surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. However, the emotional journey is often just as difficult or worse to navigate. It can include fear, anger, anxiety, pain, grief, guilt, loss of self-esteem and confidence. Interventions that involve the reproductive organs can impact a person’s sexuality and this involves physical and emotional changes. Speaking of this reminds me of the enormous grief and anger I felt when I had a mastectomy 22 years ago. For me, it felt like an invasion and a loss of personal autonomy. I believe tattoo-free radiation therapy can only be considered a positive intervention because it eliminates another hurdle in the journey. It reduces the time spent in radiation therapy and it gives patients’ a choice. All this must be good. But more importantly, it acknowledges that tattoos may cause distress. Despite the fact that some women see breast tattoos as a triumph over adversity, for others it is a constant reminder of irreparable change and loss,” Merridy said.

Icon Cancer Centre Maitland is the first in the Hunter region to treat patients with the Varian IDENTIFY system using a Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator. Radiation Oncologist at Icon Cancer Centre Maitland, Dr Kate Martin says the centre is focused on continuously improving the treatment experience for local breast cancer patients to ensure they can access the latest in personalised radiation therapy treatment closer to home.

“At Icon Maitland, we are dedicated to supporting our patients both during their treatment and beyond. We know that avoiding the need for permanent tattoos can reduce the emotional impact a cancer diagnosis may have on many women. This system gives women a choice and supports our commitment to offering the best treatment options for our community and empowers local women with access to the full breadth of cutting-edge radiation therapy treatment,” Dr Martin said.

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