Author: Joe Pinkstone, Daily Telegraph UK

A revolutionary cancer tool that can halve the time some patients need to be subjected to radiotherapy has been developed by British experts and is 99.9 per cent accurate.

Head and neck cancers are notoriously tricky to tackle as the tumour and the patient’s face often change shape during treatment due to significant weight loss.

More than 12,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with head or neck cancer every year and the treatment involves being blasted with radiation to shrink a tumour while the patient lies motionless inside a mask that protects healthy tissue.

“When I started training, we basically laid someone down on the bed, put a plastic mask on them and took some X-rays from the front and the side,” Prof Kevin Harrington, head of radiotherapy and imaging at the Institute of Cancer Research and a consultant oncologist, told The Telegraph.

“We would then blast away at them every day for six or seven weeks, treating the same area irrespective of the fact that during the treatment the patient would lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight.

“Their body would shrink, the shape of the area we were radiating would shrink and as they subsided and lost weight the position of their head would slightly change and we wouldn’t adjust one iota to that, we just carried on the way we were.”

In an ideal world, Harrington said, scans would be done every day to create a bespoke programme overseen by a doctor, but this is extremely time and labour intensive, needing up to two hours per session.

The team of researchers at the Institute of Cancer Research, in partnership with the Royal Marsden and funded by Cancer Research UK, sought to find a middle ground between the time-consuming fully customisable method and the antiquated, inflexible approach.

A machine called MR-Linac combines MRIs with X-rays to give a quick and accurate look at the cancer’s location and automatically adjusts the aim of the radiotherapy.

This automation of the adjustment process, Harrington says, can cut the treatment down from as two hours to as little as 30 minutes without any drop-off in the quality of care.