Peter Mac and Monash Health are working together as part of an international trial to provide single-dose radiation therapy to woman at the same time they undergo surgery for breast cancer. The trial of intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT) allows women to receive their required radiation dose in less than ten minutes, in a procedure that occurs during surgery to remove their tumour.

The women would otherwise be required to make regular trips to hospital for up to five weeks after their surgery, to receive radiation therapy which is the current standard of care.

“Not only does the machine we use require a much shorter period of time – just minutes compared to weeks of treatment – it also delivers the required radiation dose in more targeted way,” says Dr Steven David, Radiation Oncologist and Director of Peter Mac’s Moorabbin Campus.

“The radiation dose is able to be confined to the breast tissue which immediately surrounded the woman’s tumour, where the risk of a cancer recurrence is greatest.”

The surgery is performed at Monash Health’s Moorabbin Hospital, and the surgical team briefly leaves the theatre mid-operation to allow Peter Mac radiation oncologists to use a machine - the Xoft Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System - to deliver the required radiation dose.

It is effectively a probe that is inserted into breast to deliver radiation from the inside out.

IORT has been possible for around a decade and is now emerging to rival standard therapy in some breast cancers. It is viewed as not experimental but still being validated, and women in the trial will receive long-term monitoring.

The trial is currently open to women with low-risk breast cancer, and up to 50 women are needed to take part. Melbourne is only trial site in the southern hemisphere.

IORT is of particular benefit to cancer patients from regional areas who face extra difficulty attending hospital for weeks of post-surgery radiation therapy.