Cancer patients with multiple tumours are being given more time as strong evidence emerges about the best way to treat them using modern radiotherapy.
Doctors at The Alfred were the only Australian researchers involved in a ground-breaking international randomised trial that has shown patients live significantly longer when stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is used to target all of their tumours.
Australia’s lead investigator for the study, Stereotactic Radiation Oncologist A/Prof Sasha Senthi, said these patients were traditionally considered incurable.
“Until recently, their best option would often be gruelling courses of chemotherapy in an attempt to slow their cancer down,” A/Prof Senthi said.
“In SABR, we have found new hope – a cancer treatment that almost anyone is fit enough to receive and works irrespective of where the cancer originally started.”
SABR uses laser-guided imaging and robotic positioning to deliver ultra-high radiation doses to tumours without damaging the healthy tissue that surrounds it.
The trial was conducted across four countries and showed that SABR resulted in almost half the patients surviving five years or more – at least one year longer than with the current standard of care therapies.
“We have been using surgery to remove single tumours for decades but patients with multiple tumours would typically not be operated on,” A/Prof Senthi said.
“With SABR, we have found a potentially curative treatment for patients with up to five tumours.
“The trial clearly showed SABR gave people more time and did so without impacting their quality of life, such that they could enjoy this time with family and friends," A/Prof Senthi said.
The trial included patients with all cancer types so long as they had five or less tumours that could have spread anywhere in the body including the brain and liver.
Alfred Health’s Director of Radiation Oncology, Professor Jeremy Millar, said that while the results might revolutionise how we think about cancer treatments, it was important to methodically reproduce and extend the work in well-designed research trials.
“We need to prove effectiveness and safety, and to define the exact role for the new technique.”
Alfred Health Radiation Oncology has had a stereotactic program for 20 years and were the first in the state to start treating brain tumours.
The study was published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.