St John of God Subiaco Hospital to be first Australian private facility to perform revolutionary new breast cancer treatment

Women undergoing breast cancer treatment at St John of God Subiaco Hospital will be the first in Australia to access a revolutionary radiation therapy treatment at a private hospital.

29 May 2020

Patient Debra Strauss
On Wednesday 22 April 2020, cancer specialists at St John of God Subiaco Hospital will perform the first Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) treatment at a private hospital in Australia, in partnership with the country’s largest radiation oncology provider GenesisCare.

Debra Strauss, who was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer earlier this year, will be the first to receive the treatment under the care of St John of God Subiaco Hospital Breast Surgeon Prof Christobel Saunders AO and GenesisCare Radiation Oncologist Dr Yvonne Zissiadis.

“I chose to undergo the IORT treatment as it will eliminate the need for multiple treatments and allow me to spend more time recovering at home,” Debra said.

“This is especially important to me at the moment given the presence of COVID-19 in the community and the need to self-isolate.”

Debra said as an HBF member, accessing the treatment through the private system meant she could avoid having to go on a waiting list for the procedure.

“I feel very fortunate to be the first privately insured patient in Australia to benefit from IORT and to be having the operation earlier than I would otherwise,” she said.

IORT is available for select women who have early breast cancer. It reduces treatment time from three to four weeks of daily radiation to a single, targeted treatment that is administered while a patient is undergoing surgery to remove the tumour.

After a patient’s tumour is removed by a surgeon, and before the incision is closed, radiation is strategically delivered to the area where the tumour was located by a radiation oncologist. This provides a precise therapeutic dose to the location where local recurrence is most likely to occur.

Radiation is applied for 20 to 30 minutes, targeting tissue in the tumour bed from the inside, while minimising healthy tissue exposure to radiation.

Prof Saunders said IORT offered a tailored, precise and localised treatment option for suitable early stage breast cancer patients as well as convenience.

“By dramatically reducing treatment time and minimising side effects such as skin irritation, patients can spend more time and effort focusing on their recovery and can resume daily activities sooner, which we know can help to bring back a sense of normality,” she said.

“IORT is particularly beneficial to full-time working women and to rural patients who previously had to arrange and pay for accommodation for extended periods of time when coming to Perth to receive treatment.”

St John of God Subiaco Hospital Chief Executive Officer Professor Shirley Bowen said the COVID-19 outbreak had demonstrated the importance of ensuring patients have access to effective and efficient treatments.

“While we are all busy preparing for the expected surge in demand from the Coronavirus, it is important to remember that there are other health care needs in the community that will continue to require treatment and care,” she said.

“This new treatment is one of the ways we are continuing to provide access to timely, high quality specialist health care.”

HBF members have no out of pocket hospital costs when undergoing the treatment at St John of God Subiaco Hospital.

HBF CEO John Van Der Wielen said it was hugely gratifying that the very first Australian patient to receive the IORT treatment was an HBF member.

“Every year hundreds of HBF members are treated for breast cancer in St John of God Subiaco. For many, such as single mothers, or those who have to travel long distances to receive their cancer treatment, this option will completely transform their experience,” he said.

A number of St John of God Subiaco Hospital specialists are trained in the use of IORT.

The IORT equipment was funded through the philanthropic support and generosity of a select group of St John of God Foundation donors, including the Carcione Foundation.