Tattooless radiotherapy will have ‘massive psychological benefit’

Singleton Hospital in Swansea has become the latest institution to make the move to surface-guided radiotherapy technology

Published: 16 May 2024 Radiotherapy

Singleton Hospital in Swansea has made the move to tattooless radiotherapy for its breast patients, heralding a boost to the mental health of those undergoing treatment.

The South West Wales Cancer Centre (SWWCC), based in the hospital, has developed its use of surface-guided radiotherapy (SGRT) to the point that tattoos – used to pinpoint the target location of the treatment area – are no longer necessary. This came following a six-month trial, exploring how the centre could use SGRT to its full capacity. 

The SWWCC is the first cancer treatment centre in Wales to abandon the use of tattoos.

'Massive psychological benefit'

Around 78 per cent of radiotherapy patients would prefer not to have a permanent mark, a spokesperson for the centre explained. Some opt to pay for laser tattoo removal after treatment, or to have the radiotherapy tattoos disguised with a different one.  

Sophie Jenkins, SGRT and imaging lead at the SWWCC, said: “It’s going to have massive psychological benefit to our patients and, as always with us, the desire is to improve the experience of our patients and minimise any long-lasting reminders of their cancer treatment.”

Although initially offered to breast cancer patients, the team aims to expand this to other tumour sites. 

All four of the centre’s linear accelerators (linacs) can deliver SGRT. This uses body contour mapping, obtained during the CT scan, using a system called Sentinel. 

SGRT means that if the patient changes position during radiotherapy treatment, the radiographers are alerted and the linac automatically stops, preventing damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumour. 

As the centre has extensive experience of using SGRT for breast cancer radiotherapy, this was the first tumour site selected for the trial. Around 60 patients participated. 

'Just the start'

Ms Jenkins said the trial outcome had been very successful, with the data showing comparable results to radiotherapy with tattoos. 

She added: “And obviously it takes away the fact that these patients have got to have a permanent reminder of their cancer treatment. Unless they get it laser-removed, it is with them forever. Now we have implemented this, we will be looking at the next treatment site. It’s something that's going to continue and is really just the start for us as a department. 

“Everything will be done in a controlled manner, with in-house trials before each site is rolled out, but the end game is to offer tattooless radiotherapy for all our patients that would have needed a tattoo. 

(Image: (l-r): consultant oncologist Dr Dina Barakat; breast lead radiographer Punya Nair; CT manager Helen Streater; clinical scientist Becky Slinger; SGRT and imaging lead radiographer Sophie Jenkins; and Gaynor Laugharne, one of the first patients in Wales to have tattooless radiotherapy, via the SWWCC)