Southampton becomes latest NHS trust to roll out tattoo-less radiotherapy

Technology introduced by the trust will allow radiographers to use high-tech cameras and sensors to produce a 'unique map' of the body

Published: 05 April 2024 Radiotherapy

University Hospital Southampton has rolled out “cutting-edge” radiotherapy equipment – Surface Guided Radiation Therapy – to help produce a map of the surface of patients’ bodies.

Planning and delivering radiotherapy at University Hospital Southampton (UHS) previously required permanent tattoos, to ensure treatment was targeted at precisely the right part of the body.

Surface Guided Radiation Therapy (SGRT) combines high-tech cameras and sensors with X-rays for monitoring, which means clinicians are able to determine the exact position and location requiring radiation treatment.

It is so sensitive that if it detects a fraction of a millimetre of movement, the treatment beam shuts down to avoid damage to surrounding soft tissue or vital organs.

Enhancing radiotherapy delivery

UHS, which treats around 4,000 patients a year with radiotherapy, has now joined the ranks of hospitals in the UK to use updated versions of SGRT equipment to enable more accurate radiotherapy without the need for tattoos.

Amy Shaw, radiotherapy technical lead radiographer at UHS, said: “This technology and the volume of it now in use in our organisation – across all seven units – is enhancing the way radiotherapy is delivered in Southampton. It will help all patients undergoing radiotherapy by improving the efficiency and accuracy of their treatment, as well as removing the need for permanent tattoo marking.”

“Very few centres in the UK are using this technology so extensively so we are in a very fortunate position and, as a result, were selected to have upgrades to cameras and software – becoming the first in Europe to use the new ExacTrac Dynamic system. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of everyone involved in commissioning and implementing SGRT quickly and safely, allowing us to offer this technology to more of our patients.”

Helping thousands

Earlier this year, Poole Hospital became another such institution to introduce SGRT, with thousands of patients no longer needing these tattoos as part of their radiotherapy treatment. 

UHS’ radiotherapy centre is one of the largest in the south of England, seeing patients from across Hampshire, Dorset, Berkshire, Wiltshire, the Isle of Wight, West Sussex and the Channel Islands.

The trust has introduced two new systems: ExacTrac Dynamic made by Brain Lab and Align RT made by Vision RT, which use the most advanced form of SGRT.

According to UHS, it was the first hospital in Europe to have an upgrade installed on the ExacTrac system.

(Image: Radiotherapy team at UHS with the Linear Accelerator (Linac) with ExacTrac Dynamic SGRT system (from BrainLab))