Cancer patients at Royal Surrey will benefit from the latest technology to help radiation therapy better target cancers which lie just below the skin surface, as well as shorter appointment times, thanks to funding from Royal Surrey Charity.

The project, which will also save doctors time preparing for treatment, received a grant from the Trust’s dedicated charity as part of our Bid for Better initiative – a dragon’s den-style process where colleagues pitch their ideas to improve patient care.

The Bid for Better funding pitch from the Medical Physics team was approved for a new 3D printer and clinical software to produce a perfectly sculptured ‘second skin’, known as bolus material, for patients receiving radiotherapy for head and neck or anal cancers. The bolus is placed on the area of skin receiving radiation enabling better treatment of cancerous cells close to the skin’s surface.

Mark Long, Deputy Head of Brachytherapy Physics, who led the bid for the new technology, said:

“For some patients it can be difficult to deliver radiation dose to cancerous cells close to the skin surface. Radiation treatment penetrates into the patients’ skin and can go straight through these cells without fully treating them. To prevent this from happening, we use bolus material which creates additional build-up to ensure the full dose of radiation is delivered to the tumour.”

Currently, Royal Surrey creates wax bolus manually, based on an impression of the patient’s skin surface. This is a time-consuming process and it can be difficult to decide exactly where the bolus is needed. But by using information from a patient’s CT scan, the 3D printer will produce a perfectly sculptured bolus of exactly the right size so that the radiation can better target the tricky-to-reach cells close to the skin’s surface.

Matt Bolt, Radiotherapy Clinical Scientist who worked with Mark on the funding pitch, said:

“When planning radiation treatment it is not unusual for a doctor to see that a change in the positioning of the bolus is needed to provide the most effective treatment. Currently when this happens, the patient has to come back in to get the new bolus made. They will not have to do this when the 3D printer is up and running because we will already have all the information from the CT scan to enable creation of new bolus. This will save time for both the doctor and patient.”

The team plan to trial the process on a patient in March and roll it out for every patient by Summer 2023.

Mark said: “Our cancer centre is a major referral centre dedicated to providing top-quality care. To continually improve our care in line with innovations, it is important that we keep at the cutting edge of technology. Bid for Better has been a great scheme to help us do this.”

Bid for Better launched in January 2022 offering all staff the opportunity to bring to life their innovative ideas to make a positive difference to our hospital and patients. A total of £232k funding from Royal Surrey Charity and the University of Surrey was allocated in two categories – projects up to £5k and projects up to £30k.

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