18 May 2023

A new radiation therapy positioning technique is improving the quality of life of breast cancer patients on the Mid North Coast, by removing the need for permanent tattoos on the skin.

Minister for Health Ryan Park said the innovative Surface Guided Radiation Therapy offers greater precision and accuracy in treatment.

Clinicians use a three-dimensional light and camera system to view the patient’s skin surface and precisely track any movements in real time to ensure the radiation is delivered to the targeted area with pinpoint accuracy. 

“This technique means patients no longer have to be tattooed, which takes away the permanent visible reminder of their cancer journey,’ Mr Park said. 

“I am really pleased to hear about the use of innovative practices like this one across the healthcare system.”

Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Regional Health Dr Michael Holland said the technique has been in use at the Mid North Coast Cancer Institute since early this year. 

“It is great this method is being used at the Mid North Coast Cancer Institute’s Port Macquarie and Coffs Harbour facilities,” Dr Holland said. 

Mid North Coast Cancer Institute Chief Radiation Therapist, Stuart Greenham, said patients traditionally received up to five permanent tattoos on their skin which are aligned to calibrated laser lines in the treatment room for positioning. 

“With the advances in technology, we are now able to use the Surface Guided Radiation Therapy to position patients,” Mr Greenham said. 

“For radiation therapy, it is important that we position the patient exactly the same way every day for every treatment session, which can be up to 15 sessions for breast cancer treatment.

“A dedicated project officer and specialist team have worked hard to introduce the tattoo-less therapy locally and we are exceptionally proud of their achievements.” 

A colour map is projected onto the patient to visually show staff the ideal position of treatment and if the patient needs to be repositioned. 

The system continually monitors the patient during treatment and automatically stops the radiation beam if the patient moves out of position, improving safety.

Mid North Coast resident Karen Anderson has recently received the tattoo-less therapy and is grateful she has no permanent reminders of her breast cancer treatment. 

“I wanted to move forward following my cancer treatment, and for me it is all in the past,” Mrs Anderson said.

“I am glad that I don’t have to remember what I went through each day by looking at permanent tattoos.” 

Mid North Coast Local Health District hopes to expand the use of the tattoo-less therapy to patients being treated for cancer in other areas of their body.