A SECOND cancer fighting machine at a central NSW hospital is a big win for rural cancer sufferers.
The high energy radiation machine, a linear accelerator (LINAC), which came at a cost of almost $4 million from federal and State governments, has been described as a godsend by Orange Health Service chief radiation therapist, Rod Hammond.
Mr Hammond said the arrival of the second machine at Orange Hospital had halved patient waiting lists, and brought patients who weren’t able to make the trek to Sydney in for lifesaving treatment.
“I used to work in the city, and I would call patients from rural areas, and some would say they couldn’t come to appointments because financially they couldn’t afford it, they couldn’t cope with the distance, or they were unable to leave their families and business – there were a number of different reasons.
“Our first linear accelerator arrived at the hospital in May 2011. When we only had the one, we had a waiting list of eight weeks – now it’s halved.”
Mr Hammond said almost a quarter of patients treated by the Central West Cancer Service team at Orange Hospital were from Orange, with the remainder travelling from elsewhere in the State.
“We treat almost 50 patients a day, with appointments lasting for 15 minutes. Just under 50 per cent of our patients suffer from breast and prostate cancer.”
Mr Hammond said the machine itself came at a cost of $3.5 million, not including software and infrastructure costs, and weighs in at nine tonnes.
The hospital is also planning to boost the department’s multi- disciplinary staff numbers from 40 to 50.
He said the health service was the first public department west of the Blue Mountains to receive the technology, thanks to a big regional push “government wise” during the last few years for improved cancer facilities.
NSW Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner, said last year a total of 407 patients were treated by the first linear, which involved 7649 individual treatments, and included patients with breast, prostate, head and neck, lung and rectal cancer.
“The ability to provide this specialist treatment in Orange is of benefit to the whole of western NSW, with patients from as far as Cobar, Bourke and Collarenebri being treated,” Mrs Skinner said.
“It’s rewarding to see that the LINAC will expand cancer services even further to make a difference to patients and their families.”
Member for Orange, Andrew Gee said it was unacceptable in this day and age that people living in rural areas turn down cancer treatment because it was too hard and too expensive to be treated in Sydney.
“The disparity in the level of cancer services available in the city compared to the country has been too great for too long,” he said.
“It’s amazing to think how many lives will be changed by this technology and it is great to see the service being provided from Orange for the benefit of local patients and those across rural NSW.”
Chief executive officer of Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA), Maxine Morand, said the organisation congratulated the Australian and NSW governments on their decision to fund the second linear accelerator in Orange and better serve the needs of those living in this large catchment area.
She said those diagnosed with cancer in rural and regional Australia faced additional challenges.
“Access to cancer services such as radiotherapy in rural areas is a key concern for women with breast cancer who have to travel long distances which means being away from home for extended periods of time,” she said.
Ms Morand said there was also the emotional strain of being separated from family and children, while women in rural areas may encounter extra financial costs related to travelling for treatment, inability to work, and child care.
“We don’t want any women to opt to have a mastectomy rather than breast-conserving surgery because they can eliminate the need for radiotherapy, which requires them to be away from home for up to six weeks.