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In a first for Scotland, and possibly the UK, NHS Highland will be an NHS centre to take forward ‘tattoo-less’ radiotherapy for breast cancer patients.
Before radiotherapy treatment can begin, breast patients have a CT scan which allows treatment to be planned, they are then tattooed with small dots to allow accurate positioning for that treatment to begin.
However, for some patients, a tattoo can be quite negative, leaving them with a constant reminder of their treatment.
A relatively new optical monitoring system (AlignRT) can now provide a different method of positioning the patient, which does not rely on tattoos.
Mo Beange, radiotherapy manager and head of therapeutic radiography for NHS Highland, explained: ‘We have wanted to do this for a while and, now that we have our two AlignRT systems, which track a patient’s position before and during radiation therapy, we are now able to offer tattoo-less radiotherapy to suitable patients.
‘Patients will be scanned as usual but we will use a surface guided radiotherapy system to ensure patients are positioned accurately.’
Surface guided radiation therapy avoids the need for skin marks, delivering at least equivalent accuracy in patient positioning. Feedback from the centres that already use this show patients much prefer this method.
Ms Beange added: ‘We know from our own patient feedback that the tattoos have been an issue in the past so this new method will be good for our patients’ psychological wellbeing.
‘The whole clinical oncology team has really embraced this new way of working. It’s taken a lot of planning and we are still taking it slowly in the first instance by introducing one patient a week but it’s a very exciting development for the unit and one that we hope to roll out to other oncology patients in the future.’