Students to target tumours with laser

RADIATION therapy students will be able to improve their delivery of life-saving treatment with the opening of an Australian-first laboratory at the University of Newcastle on Thursday.

Radiation therapy is one of the main treatment options for patients diagnosed with cancer and contributes greatly to the high cancer cure rates in Australia.

The three stages of radiation therapy are simulation – which radiation therapy lecturer Yolanda Surjan said was the most complex stage – planning and treatment.

‘‘Just after the patient is diagnosed with cancer and has met with their doctor, their radiation oncologist, they are booked in to see us,’’ Ms Surjan said. ‘‘We meet them in the simulation room, which is used to pinpoint exactly where the tumour is, identify what treatment field we need to deliver to that tumour and we take stills.’’

Students will visit the new radiation therapy simulation laboratory room to practise creating individualised immobilisation devices for each other.

‘‘If there’s any movement when the delivery of treatment comes then you could have what we call a geographical miss, missing the tumour – not all of it, maybe only part of it – but that leads  to recurrence.’’

Students will practise using a laser to straighten the patient and locate the tumour. Normally they would take a CT scan to determine the size of the tumour and the treatment field, but without a CT scanner they will use donated real images to continue to the planning and treatment stages.

‘‘Whereas [previously] we were using very abstract concepts to teach a very very complex and important part of radiation therapy, now the students will walk into a lab and have the opportunity to see it first hand,’’ she said.

‘‘This we believe will give them the edge when they do go out to placement to be able to say ‘I’ve done that, I’ve been there, I can touch a patient quiet safely now’.’’

The $327,000 lab was funded by the University and the Australian government.

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