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Medicare funding for 30-minute radiotherapy revolution

September 6th, 2015

From 1 September, eligible Australian women with early breast cancer will have affordable access to an innovative radiotherapy technique that has the potential to revolutionise breast cancer treatment.

The radiotherapy technique, known as targeted intra-operative radiotherapy or TARGIT, is being listed on Medicare following extensive international clinical trials, in part undertaken by breast cancer researchers at the University of Western Australia (UWA).

TARGIT sends a beam of radiation directly into the tissue at the site of the breast tumour. It takes 30 minutes and is delivered during a woman’s breast surgery, as opposed to traditional radiotherapy which is delivered over a six week course.

Researchers from UWA trialled the TARGIT technique on almost 300 patients at the Queen Elizabeth II Medical Centre as part of a worldwide study examining its effects on a total of more than 2,000 patients aged over 45. The research found that 30 minutes of TARGIT delivered during surgery, could replace the more expensive and time-consuming six week course of external beam radiotherapy.

The research also showed that TARGIT results in less side effects than conventional radiotherapy, as the targeted delivery of treatment means that other tissue close to the breasts – such as the heart, lungs and oesophagus – avoid damage from external beams of radiation.

Leading breast cancer surgeon Professor Christobel Saunders, deputy head of UWA’s School of Surgery, told The West Australian newspaper that it was exciting to see Medicare approve a new treatment for the first time in many years.

“We’re delighted to see good evidence-based research translated into policy for the benefit of so many women, and at times, in the face of some fierce opposition,” Professor Saunders said.

Breast cancer radiotherapy currently accounts for approximately one-third of the work load of radiotherapy departments in Australia.

It is hoped that the Medicare subsidy for TARGIT will provide eligible women with access to a faster and more tolerable treatment, while also reducing radiotherapy waiting lists and health system costs.