Holman Clinic pioneers defy Sydney claim

LAUNCESTON'S Holman Clinic pioneered brachytherapy for cancer patients in Australia more than a decade ago and is still at the forefront of national service delivery, director Stan Gauden said yesterday.

Dr Gauden was speaking after claims from a Sydney hospital that it was the first public hospital in the country to use brachytherapy on breast cancer patients.

 ``We've been using brachytherapy here since 1997 for both breast and other kinds of cancer,'' Dr Gauden said.

``It's all a bit old hat for us now.

``It was really the interest of our technicians at the time in wanting to use the technique when invited by the manufacturers that saw us get started.''

Dr Gauden said that the Launceston General Hospital cancer clinic often hosted national and international visitors who wanted to see how the treatment worked.

In the past couple of years the Launceston Holman Clinic had also started using the highly specialised treatment for other cancers, such as skin cancers, Dr Gauden said.

``We had a paper published last October on our reported data - it presented one of the biggest series (numbers of patients healed) in the world,'' Dr Gauden said.

The Holman Clinic was also using brachytherapy in gynaecological cancer work and for internal cancers, such as tumours in the bile duct or lungs.

Dr Gauden said he was proud of the results since the treatment started in Tasmania.

``At this stage we've had no (patient) returns,'' he said.

He stressed that the treatment was not for everyone.

``In breast cancer, it's usually for older patients over 60 with lower chances of the disease reoccurring,'' he said.

``And it's for those patients where the cancer has not spread to the lymph glands.''

Brachytherapy cuts the radiation treatment time and its effect on the rest of the body by going to the seat of the tumour.

A series of wafer-thin plastic tubes are inserted in and around the tumour, guided by ultrasound and other medical imaging techniques.

The radioactive element iridium is passed through the tubing or tiny catheters directly to the tumour.

Dr Gauden said that patients had two treatments a day over a week, had the catheters removed and went home, instead of the conventional radiation treatment that took at least five weeks.

He said that brachytherapy had been around as a treatment for nearly 100 years.

It had become particularly useful in the past decade through the development of ultrasound equipment that could guide technicians  to the tumour.

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