When Lynne Norton received the devastating news her cancer had not only returned, but spread to her brain and bones, she faced the prospect of having only months to live.
However, a cutting-edge radiation therapy reduced her treatment to less than a week, with few side-effects, and gave her hope of a brighter future.
Mrs Norton is one of a hundred patients to benefit from Varian’s HyperArc technology since it was brought to Australia by Icon Cancer Centre in 2018.
“I don’t know what I would have done without this being available in Brisbane. I’m thankful every day that I had this option and didn’t have to consider traditional treatment that delivers radiation therapy to the whole brain and the terrible side-effects that come with it,” said the 59-year-old, who was treated at Icon’s clinic at Greenslopes Private Hospital.
“There are enough scary things you have to deal with when faced with an incurable diagnosis. This treatment was a pivotal moment for me and gave me hope to keep going.”
Most of the 100 recipients of the program have been treated at Greenslopes by Associate Professor Matthew Foote, a radiation oncologist who was instrumental in bringing the technology to Australia.
“HyperArc is helping us redefine how we manage people with advanced cancer. The reality is that if secondary tumours aren’t treated aggressively and quickly, the chances of being alive in six months are very low,” he said.
“It delivers a higher dose of radiation directly to the tumours with a relatively low impact on quality of life. We’ve continued to improve functionality of this technology, and we are now treating up to 18 brain lesions at a time, something unheard of 10 years ago. A significant proportion of patients with a diagnosis like Lynne are now living far beyond 12 months.”
Mrs Norton was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 after returning home from a four-week European holiday.
Following weeks of tests, the Airlie Beach local had a mastectomy, six months of chemotherapy in Mackay, and 10 days of radiation therapy treatment in her native New Zealand. She thought she had beaten the disease but then found out this year it had returned, after having a breast reconstruction.
“My stomach had swollen up within one week so that it looked like I was nine months pregnant. After CT and PET scans, they found my cancer had spread and I had three small tumours in my brain, buildup of fluid in my stomach and lungs, and cancer in my bones,” Mrs Norton said.
“I was in disbelief, especially since I had been getting checkups for so long. You’re expecting to be told there’s a solution, not that your cancer is incurable.”
But she did find a solution at Icon Greenslopes, travelling down from North Queensland to have three treatments in four days in April despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had a great time in Brisbane as I had treatment in the morning and then the rest of the days free, and because I didn’t have any side effects my husband and I were able to spend each day taking long walks on the beach and enjoying each other’s company. It was such a relief to only be away from home for eight days,” Mrs Norton said.
The new technology can treat multiple brain tumours in minutes with one automated setup, while limiting radiation doses to surrounding healthy brain tissue.
“Cancer is becoming a chronic disease with more and more people living longer with advanced disease," A/Prof Foote said.
"Unfortunately recurrence of cancers in the brain continue to rise but with these cutting-edge developments in treatment we are able to help people with secondary cancers who would otherwise have very few options.”
Icon Group, a global company, has 30 cancer centres across Australia. Its partnership with Greenslopes – which began in 2017 – gives patients access to the latest radiation therapy treatments in Brisbane, said the hospital’s CEO Chris Went.
“We are dedicated to caring for our patients through every step of their cancer journey – from diagnosis to treatment and beyond. We believe it is important for healthcare providers to continually invest in new technologies to achieve the best possible patient outcomes,” she said.