Birmingham hospital uses missile mapping for radiotherapy

The robot on the X-ray machine can move through 120 positions

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Car welding technology is being used in a £3.5m machine used to treat cancer.

The radiotherapy machine called CyberKnife was funded by a charity for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham (QEHB).

Staff said it used the same type of robot used for welding cars, and had an X-ray machine capable of moving into 120 positions.

Oncology consultant Dr Paul Sanghera said it was the "icing on the cake" for the hospital's cancer centre.

CyberKnife is a type of radiotherapy which uses robots to target radiation at maximum dose to hard-to-reach tumours, delivering a beam with 0.1mm precision as an alternative to surgery.

It has been described as "pain free, non-invasive alternative to surgery" where patients do not need to have a stabilising frame attached to their heads, or have to hold their breath.

David Walker, from Cannock in Staffordshire, had a tumour growing in the ear canal of his right ear and said CyberKnife was "fantastic".

Analysis

The CyberKnife is versatile, it can fire a pencil thin beam of x-rays from two hundred positions to within 0.1mm accuracy.

It's particularly important for tumours in difficult to reach places like the brain and lungs where normal radiotherapy would damage more healthy tissue which clearly is not desirable.

It also replaces dangerous operations where there is a possibility of brain or nerve damage.

The UK has been relatively slow to pick up this technology. These machines have been in use in the USA since 2001, but this is the first machine outside of London.

Birmingham will begin a trial to see if it can treat prostate cancer. The £3.5m cost is an issue, but this type of technology could replace more and more radiotherapy and surgery.

Mr Walker, 60, said surgery to treat the tumour would have been "quite invasive" and he was glad to be able to undergo treatment on the day it first arrived at the QEHB.

"It risked causing damage, such as the possibility of facial paralysis, total hearing loss, or facial palsy," he said.

"I didn't feel any sort of serious effects from it and, since having the treatment, my hearing loss has stabilised and not worsened at all."

The machine was funded by the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity and has been used since June to treat brain and lung tumours.

It is to be trialled for prostate cancer too, Dr Sanghera said.

"We have one of the broadest ranges of equipment, skills and expertise on one site anywhere in Europe," he said.

"As a regional centre of excellence for the treatment of cancer we were already providing highly specialist services to patients from across the country.

"To now be able to offer patients CyberKnife as well, thanks to funding from the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham Charity, is the icing on the cake."

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