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3D printing a new cancer treatment

A team at RNSH’s radiation oncology department are in the early stages of testing 3D-printed customised vaginal inserts for cancer patients. They are being used on women with endometrial cancer after a hysterectomy and vaginal cancer.

The inserts are a new development in the field of brachytherapy, a type of cancer treatment that involves placing radioactive material inside the body.

For the past 30 years, plastic cylinders have delivered radiation. But as each woman’s anatomy — and cancer— is different, in recent years at RNSH, a specialist technician has been handmaking wax model inserts, which meant the treatment was more targeted. Unfortunately, this method was time-consuming.

Judith Martland, senior medical physicist in radiation oncology, said the new 3D-printed inserts are quicker to make and even more customised. 

We are tailoring the treatment to the patient more closely rather than using a one-size-fits-all— literally
Judith Martland, senior medical physicist in radiation oncology

“It’s also more widely applicable. Anyone can use the software and produce a 3D print.” 

The department is currently doing a study where ten patients will be treated with 3D-printed applicators while others with plastic cylinders. Later in the year, the department hopes to run a proper trial of the inserts, which are currently printed in Canada by a medical technology company.

“We’re pretty excited about it all,” said Jeremy Booth, head of medical physics, Radiation Oncology at the Northern Sydney Cancer Centre.

“We have more options with the 3D print. With the plastic cylinders, the channel that the radioisotope moves along is fixed. 

“Whereas with the 3D option, we can put multiple channels and position them how we like. It allows us to control where the dose goes a little bit more.”

The department is one of a handful in the district utilising 3D printing in their work. 

Statistics show that worldwide, gynaecological cancers account for 40 per cent of cancer incidence and 30 per cent of all cancer mortality in women. The current standard of care for all gynaecological malignancies involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

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