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Removing the reminder of radiation tattoos

UK cancer patients first in Europe to benefit from new, tattoo-less surface-guided radiation therapy (SGRT).

In 2017, 48 year-old Margarita from Nottinghamshire discovered a lump in her right breast while in the shower.

Following a mammogram, she was told that she had cancer and would need to undergo an intense course of treatment, including a lumpectomy and radiotherapy – the latter typically involving permanent skin markings – tattoos – to help guide the radiation.

Today, she has made a full recovery, both physically and mentally, thanks to new technology that ensures a tattoo-less procedure for cancer patients.

Radiation that doesn’t require tattoos

Surface guided radiation therapy (SGRT) is not widely adopted in the UK, but is helping to make radiotherapy treatments more accurate and improving current techniques by allowing patients to be positioned correctly without the use of tattoos. It limits radiation being directed to healthy cells by monitoring the position of the body during delivery of the radiotherapy.

Should a patient move during treatment, the system halts the beam ensuring no dose is delivered incorrectly.

For many women, radiotherapy tattoos are a constant and permanent reminder of their treatment and can be psychologically damaging*, however, tattooing is eliminated when using SGRT. 

Jacqui Dorney is the clinical lead at GenesisCare, who is introducing this new technique to the UK. She says: “Avoiding visible tattoos has been shown to result in improved body image after breast cancer treatment, so we are thrilled that we can now offer this to our patients to help them return to their everyday lives without a permanent reminder of their treatment.”

Jacqui adds: “Although the technique is available to treat all cancer types, this is also a particularly crucial method for left-sided breast cancer patients to ensure that no radiation is administered to the heart.”

Crucial for left-sided breast cancer, to ensure that no radiation is administered to the heart.

Margarita was the first patient in Europe to receive the SGRT treatment using the tattoo-less approach and believes it has made a huge difference to her physical and psychological recovery from breast cancer.

Psychological recovery

Margarita says: “I’d already had a lumpectomy on my right breast when I was transferred to GenesisCare to begin my course of radiotherapy. I’d heard that this usually involves permanent tattooing and was worried about this, as a tattoo would be another constant reminder of my cancer. So, when I heard I would be receiving SGRT I was incredibly relieved. My scars were already fading but a tattoo would have remained, and I wanted to move on with my life.

Put the cancer behind me and move on with my life.

“For me and I’m sure many women, I wanted to put the cancer behind me, so not having to look at a tattoo every day is a big positive. I couldn’t face looking at them every day, I just want to move on with my life”.

B. Clow & J. Allen Psychosocial Impacts of Radiation Tattooing For Breast Cancer Patients: A Critical Review (2010). Canadian Women Studies

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