Lobbyists urge wider use of IORT breast treatment

  • 05/06/2016
Nurse with young women having a mammography

Lobbying is under way for Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) to be used more in New Zealand.

The treatment involves a single dose of radiation at the time a patient is having lumpectomy surgery to remove a tumour, removing the need for repeat post-operative external radiation therapy over several weeks.

The New Zealand Breast Cancer Foundation says up to 30 percent of patients have the kind of breast cancers suited to IORT.

"As we see it, it's a win for the patient and for the health system," says Evangelia Henderson, chief executive at the NZ Breast Cancer Foundation.

"The DHBs really need to step up and figure out how they can introduce this in a way that works for everyone. In the meantime, our advice to women is to ask your surgeon if you can have IORT."

Dr Erica Whineray Kelly from Focus Radiology, which operates New Zealand's only IORT service in the private health system, says IORT is not funded by major health insurer Southern Cross and DHBs are not referring their patients for treatment.

"It is beyond belief that fewer than a hundred women a year receive IORT when 10 times that number could enjoy the significant advantages of the one-shot treatment that saves them the stress and expense of multiple post-operative radiation sessions," she said.

At about two thirds the cost of traditional radiotherapy, IORT also has the potential to free up significant resources for use elsewhere in the health system as well as relieve pressure on linear accelerator facilities that could then be used to treat other conditions including later-stage breast cancers, Dr Whineray Kelly said.