Dame Judi Dench opened a new radiotherapy centre in Brighton this morning (Thursday 23 June).
The actress formally opened the Park Radiotherapy Centre, in Preston Road, Brighton, where she met the NHS team behind the £8.9 million project.
The 81-year-old actress also met patients and supporters and was given a tour, seeing where specialist staff will treat cancer patients from across Brighton and Hove and beyond.
She posed for a picture with Brighton’s best-known breast cancer patient Sara Cutting, 48, who was won recognition and admiration for her fundraising selfies on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support.
Each day she wears “different daily headgear” – and today she praised those who helped her, including Macmillan nurse Lisa, and marvelled at the two new “tomotherapy” scanners.
Dame Judi was told how the machines which cost about £2 million each should help clinicians give patients better treatment and better results.
Tomotherapy – a type of radiotherapy – uses advances in scanning technology to provide a three-dimensional image of the treatment area.
This enables the radiation beams to be more accurately targeted to the size, shape and location of the tumour on that specific day.
During treatment, staff can adjust the intensity and direction of the radiation beams in real time and the revolving beam treats tumours one layer at a time.
Side effects are often minimised because less radiation reaches healthy tissues and organs.
Dame Judi, the daughter of a doctor and a former patron of Ovingdean Hall School for deaf children, said: “I am delighted to be able to officially open this wonderful new facility and to see some of the cutting-edge equipment that will be used to benefit patients living with cancer.
“The work the staff do here is wonderful and it is a pleasure to be able to speak to patients and hear how important the treatment being provided at this new centre is to their lives.”
Fiona McKinna, consultant oncologist and clinical lead for cancer services at Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This is a vital service for some of our sickest patients and our new machines are at the cutting edge of cancer care.
“People who need radiotherapy often have to come in daily for a number of weeks and the Park Centre is a wonderful environment for patients and for staff.”
Referring to Preston Park, opposite the new centre, Dame Judi said: “This is a marvellous facility for local people – and opposite a beautiful park which my dog has already sampled!”
Dr McKinna said: “In a week when national and international news has been both shocking and depressing and on a day when we are all making the most important vote for decades, the opening of a radiotherapy facility may seem very parochial and small.
“For us, however, the patients of Sussex and the staff who treat them, this is huge and comes after years of hard work.
“There are many who couldn’t be here today but those who are have all played their part … and finally made it possible to instal the equipment that the patients of Sussex deserve for their radiotherapy treatment.
“The key people come from our Cancer Centre staff, patient groups and from the trust and have put up with the highs and lows of a very complex project.
“Our team has always believed that our patients deserved a high-quality service as well as kindness and caring from a superb multi-professional team.
“We can only be eternally grateful that Dame Judi has found the time in her busy schedule to share our small moment of celebration.
“I was going to try to say something clever about Shakespeare but looking up quotes last night I couldn’t find anything about radiotherapy or women doctors.”
One of those present quietly observed how the life-saving machines had a beauty worthy of a Shakespearean verse – in terms of their aesthetic design as well as their practical function.
Lionel Hadjadjeba, senior vice president of Accuray, the company that makes the tomotherapy machines, said: “We look forward to continuing to work with the clinical team to bring these leading-edge clinical treatments to the local community.”
The two new machines are the first of six radiotherapy machines planned for Sussex hospitals, with two linear accelerators due to be installed in Eastbourne and two planned for Chichester.
The aim is to give patients shorter journey times and more effective treatment.
The four linear accelerators at the Sussex Cancer Centre at the Royal Sussex County Hospital, in Brighton, will be taken out of use during the £485 million modernisation programme.
The Sussex Cancer Centre deals with more than 17,000 oncology outpatient appointments, 9,000 chemotherapy episodes and more than 33,000 radiotherapy attendances every year.
Almost half of all people with cancer have radiotherapy as part of their treatment plan. It can be used, alone or in combination with chemotherapy to try to cure cancers.
For people with incurable cancers, radiotherapy is also an effective method of controlling symptoms.
It can be used before surgery to shrink a tumour so it’s easier to remove or after surgery to destroy small amounts of tumour that may be left.
The radiotherapy team plan each patient’s radiotherapy individually and aim to give a high dose to the cancer but as low a dose as possible to the surrounding healthy cells.
To support Sara Cutting’s fundraising efforts on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support, click here.
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