Clinicians use radiation technique to treat heart issue

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A Perth-based team of cardiologists and radiation oncologists has become only the second in Australia to use radiation therapy to treat a heart disease patient.

The clinicians from Fiona Stanley Hospital (FSH) and GenesisCare used precise targeted treatment technique, stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR), to treat a patient with a life-threatening arrhythmia known as ventricular tachycardia (VT).

VT causes improper electrical activity in the heart that results in a rapid heart rate and cardiac arrest. SABR is most commonly used to treat cancer by delivering a high dose of radiation to kill tumours without exposing the surrounding healthy tissue.

The SABR technique allows doctors to target areas of the heart, not accessible with conventional treatment, with highly precise beams of radiation.

Patient Sherralee McMahon is the second person in Australia to access this form of therapy. Prior to the procedure, Ms McMahon suffered from multiple episodes of arrhythmia daily, ICD shocks and hospital admissions. Due to multiple co-morbidities, she was deemed unsuitable for a heart transplant.

The team consisted of cardiologist Dr Ben King, senior physicist Simon Goodall, radiation therapist Anna Ellison, and radiation oncologist Dr Tee Lim. The procedure was carried out in close collaboration with Washington University of St Louis, where the technology was developed.

According to FSH and GenesisCare cardiologist, Dr Ben King, “Ventricular tachycardia can have a terrible impact on a patient’s quality of life, causing frequent heart palpitations, breathlessness, chest pain and painful defibrillator electric shocks. In some cases it can also lead to mental health issues.

“If left untreated, VT can be a serious life-threatening condition causing heart failure or cardiac arrest.

“Stereotactic ablative radiation therapy for patients with VT is a relatively new concept and has only been carried out on approximately 80 patients worldwide. SABR offers a viable non-invasive option for patients with cardiac arrhythmias who are too sick for invasive treatments or where other treatment options have been unsuccessful or inapplicable.

“Compared to surgical options, SABR is a completely non-invasive treatment which takes only between 10 and 20 minutes, meaning patients can return home to their loved ones as soon as possible,” said Dr King.

The procedure was carried out at Fiona Stanley Hospital in mid-July and the patient has experienced a promising response to date.

“The patient is recovering well and is actually looking to travel to Broome in the next week for some much-needed sunshine and family time,” said Dr King.

Fiona Stanley Hospital and GenesisCare radiation oncologist, Dr Tee Lim, said, “It was fantastic partnering with our cardiologists to offer stereotactic radiation therapy to Sherralee and I’m looking forward to collaborating on many more of these procedures in the years to come.

“Cancer and heart disease are two of the biggest health burdens facing this country so to find a treatment that is effective for both of these patient populations is absolutely fantastic.”