Cancer units slow progress
By Alex Easton firstname.lastname@example.org ROBYN SPARKS and Kerrie Gray are on the cusp of a hard-fought victory.
The two cancer survivors are among a group of Northern Rivers residents and groups fighting to get the region’s new radiotherapy unit so no local ever again has to travel to Brisbane or Sydney for the lifesaving treatment.
But even if they win, the women fear they may lose. Ms Sparks and Ms Gray sit on a cancer advocacy committee, led by Regional Community Watch head Marshall Fittler, which yesterday called on the State Government to make sure the region got two radiotherapy machines (linear accelerators) when the unit opens late next year or early 2010.
“When they installed one in Coffs they didn’t take into account the fact that some forms of cancer take longer to treat than others. Some take three hours and that could happen a couple of times a day,” Ms Sparks said.
The result was that many Coffs Harbour cancer patients were still going to other places for treatment, such as Port Macquarie and Sydney.
However, North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford was yesterday unable to say when the Lismore unit would get a second radiotherapy device.
Mr Crawford said the unit would include two radiotherapy bunkers, allowing a second linear accelerator to be installed some time in the future.
However, he added: “The commissioning timetable for the second linear accelerator has not yet been settled.
“The Department of Health will determine this timetable in accordance with various planning criteria, including patient demand.”
While cancer unit advocates said the high demand on the Coffs machine meant some common cancers were being treated elsewhere, Mr Crawford said the new unit would cover a broad mix of cancers.
Some of the cancers earmarked for the unit included breast, prostate, simple lung cancers, skin, and some gynaecological cancers, along with palliative radiotherapy. However, some complex types of cancer – such as those in the head and neck, and cancers in children – would still have to be treated in specialist centres in one of the big cities.
Mr Crawford said the new unit at Lismore would include a special machine for treating skin cancers. Called a superficial X-ray therapy system or orthovoltage machine, it would allow many common skin cancers to be dealt with without resorting to surgery.
But he ruled out a PET scanner (positron emission tomography) for the new unit which, advocates argue, would increase the unit’s efficiency.