The first Regional Cancer Treatment Service (RCTS) patients were treated under the FastForward protocol in October this year, following weeks of planning by a team comprised of oncologists, radiation therapists, medical physicists, nurses and administrative staff.
FastForward is a treatment protocol for low risk, early stage breast cancer patients that was devised in the United Kingdom, with five year follow-up data published earlier this year. It is now being used by cancer treatment centres around the world, and has recently been introduced in New Zealand.
RCTS Radiation Oncologist Dr Kim Lohlun, a member of the FastForward team, said the protocol’s main benefit was the significant reduction in treatment time for patients.
“A typical course of radiation treatment for women with early stage breast cancer will see them receive 15 doses of radiation over a span of three weeks,” Dr Lohlun said. “The FastForward protocol cuts the treatment timeframe down by two thirds by providing patients with five doses over a one-week period.”
This reduction means less disruption for patients by reducing travel time, and time away from whānau, friends and work. The decreased schedule also means a higher volume of patients can be treated in a shorter timeframe.
Clinical Executive for Cancer Screening, Treatment and Support and Radiation Oncologist Dr Claire Hardie said FastForward was positive for all patients but was particularly beneficial for people living outside the MidCentral region.
“We understand that being away from family, support people and work for three weeks at a time can be hugely disruptive. Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to people either turning down treatment or opting for more invasive procedures, such as mastectomy.”
Dr Hardie said it was to the credit of the committed FastForward team that this treatment was now available in such a timely fashion.
FastForward is being offered to any patient who meets the criteria. Patients who are interested are given a full rundown of the programme and can ask questions at any time.
Dr Lohlun said: “Uptake was very quick and we found patients were very happy to have the shortened treatment schedule.”
In addition to the considerable analysis and research done prior to FastForward’s introduction, Dr Lohlun said, as a precaution, extra imaging was done on the first 10 patients treated with this protocol to ensure the treatment was appropriate and safe. Those cases have been audited, with a pleasing outcome.
“The audit found that the radiation plans were all consistent and met the high quality of the current treatment standard, maintaining safe doses to nearby normal tissues.. It provided us with additional confidence that this is a safe treatment protocol that provides considerable benefits to patients.”
The RCTS, based at Palmerston North Hospital, provides cancer treatment services to people living in the MidCentral, Taranaki, Whanganui, Hawke’s Bay and Wairarapa regions.