$400,000 needed for skin cancer machine

By BELINDA SCOTT

A $350,000 to $400,000 superficial machine is needed for Coffs Harbour's new Cancer Institute, says Associate Professor Tom Shakespeare.

This machine is not on the equipment list for the Institute, due to open next year, but is necessary for treatment of skin cancers.

Prof. Shakespeare is the area director of cancer services for the North Coast Area Health Service.

He said while the Institute's planned linear accelerator, which will provide deeper radiation, would be used for treating some skin cancers, particularly mela-noma where treatment involves the lymph glands, the superficial machine was needed for the treatment of the more common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinomas and squamous cell carcinomas.

The North Coast Area Health Service, which includes the Coffs Coast, has the State's highest rate of melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.

Prof. Shakespeare said while the statistics collected by the NSW Cancer Institute did not include other forms of skin cancer, the number of these cancers in this area were also very high.

"The reason we don't have one (superficial machine) is because advice to the project several years ago was from Newcastle, before I arrived, and didn't account for having a superficial machine," he said.

He said he had been 'astounded' by the omission. "It was almost as though it was overlooked, and I've been highlighting it ever since.

"I personally think we need one at each site (Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie) and so this is something we need to actively work for."

Prof. Shakespeare began work on the project in March, 2005, and chief radiation therapist Stuart Greenham began work last month.

The cancer services director said the omission of the machine was probably the result of changes to the boundaries of area health services, which resulted in changed planning for services.

He is now giving talks to various groups encouraging fundraising for the machine.

"The other thing we don't have is brachy therapy, which uses a tiny 5mm radioactive substance, iridium, set in a $500,000 unit," he said.

"This is used where you can put a wire into a patient's tumour and is used for prostate, gynaecological cancers and lung cancers."

"We don't have one of these and that is going to be a problem, because patients needing brachy therapy will still have to travel out of the area.

"We only need one for the area and I favour this being centrally located, probably in Coffs Harbour."

He said he was looking at all options for full or partial funding of the costly machine.



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