New machine boost to cancer treatment

Radiation therapist Maryann Panizza tries out the comfort levels of the new Varian Truebeam...
Radiation therapist Maryann Panizza tries out the comfort levels of the new Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator at Dunedin Hospital. Photo by Dan Hutchinson

Radiation therapist Maryann Panizza is a picture of health as she climbs on to the new $6.3 million linear accelerator at Dunedin Hospital - and those who follow her will hope for the same.

The Varian Truebeam Linear Accelerator (Linac) machine will help meet increasing demand for cancer treatment in the region, boosting capacity by 20%.

It is part of a drive by the Southern District Health Board to improve cancer treatment in the area and just yesterday, the board also confirmed three new specialist nurses would be guiding people through their treatment.

The Linac machine delivers a high-energy dose of targeted X-rays, which destroy cancer cells while sparing surrounding normal tissue. It replaces an 18-year-old model.

SDHB allied health director (medical directorate) and clinical charge radiation therapist Noelle Bennett said the machine would allow cancers to be treated more quickly and accurately.

''This machine is going to make a great deal of difference to the treatment we can give to cancer patients in our region, and we should also be able to help patients from other centres,'' Mrs Bennett said.

During the changeover to the new machine, the Southern Blood and Cancer Centre team had worked extended hours and weekend shifts to ensure cancer patients continued to get timely treatment, Mrs Bennett said.

The system includes X-ray and CT-scan imaging techniques, known as image-guided radiotherapy, to identify and locate the tumour before and during treatment.

Installing the machine had required the extensive modification of a protective ''bunker'' to shield staff and patients from its high-energy output.

Dunedin Hospital radiation therapists were delighted with the performance of the new Linac machine, Mrs Bennett said.

The SDHB's three new cancer nurse co-ordinators are also settling into their roles as part of a central Government project to give cancer patients support right through their treatment.

SDHB nursing director medical directorate Sally O'Connor said the nurses were dedicated to guiding the most complex patients through treatment and follow-up. They would act as a point of contact for patients referred with a high suspicion of cancer, through diagnosis, and into treatment.

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