How CyberKnife works
The CyberKnife has X-ray cameras that monitor the position of the tumour and sensors that monitor the patient's breathing. This enables the robot to reposition the radiotherapy beam during treatment in order to minimise damage to healthy tissue. CyberKnife moves with the patient's breathing and can track a moving tumour.
Because of its pinpoint accuracy, CyberKnife allows larger fractions (doses) of radiotherapy to be delivered, meaning that the patient requires fewer hospital visits. For example, visits for lung cancer patients could be reduced from 30 to three; for prostate cancer patients visits could potentially be reduced from 37 to five, and visits for palliative radiotherapy could be reduced from ten to one.
CyberKnife was funded by supporters of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, and it is hoped the new robotic radiosurgery system will treat 200 patients in its first year of operation.
CyberKnife is available for suitable private and NHS patients who will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. As CyberKnife technology is very new to the NHS, The Royal Marsden is conducting research into the benefits of the technology to prove that it should be available for all patients who might benefit. At the moment, NHS patients will require individual funding approval.
A CyberKnife patient's story
Five years after completing treatment for prostate cancer, Ray Dean was given the devastating news that it had returned.
The grandfather of five was told by doctors that, due to the location of the tumour, his only potentially curative treatment option was CyberKnife. In July 2011, Ray became the first patient to receive CyberKnife treatment at The Royal Marsden.
Ray, 66, from Fleet, Hampshire, was told he would need just three sessions with CyberKnife, compared to the 35 sessions he received when he was initially treated with radiotherapy for prostate cancer. Three weeks after completing the CyberKnife treatment his PSA (Prostate-Specific Antigen) level reduced dramatically, and he is still well today.
Ray said at the time: "I am absolutely delighted with the results. I couldn’t believe my luck when they told me I would be the first patient to be offered this treatment. Last time I had cancer I went on the IMRT radiotherapy trial and that gave me five years. If CyberKnife gives me another five years then I will be a very happy man."
The location of Ray's tumour this time ruled out the possibility of IMRT radiotherapy or surgery, and it was considered that CyberKnife's pinpoint accuracy would be the most suitable option.
He said: "I was remarkably calm on the day of my first treatment. The treatment lasted about 45 minutes and it was so restful and peaceful. I had a lovely picture to look at on the ceiling which relaxed me, and I chose to listen to Susan Boyle and Johnny Cash. I think I actually fell asleep at one point.
"It was so different to any other treatment I have had previously. I expected the CyberKnife robot to take its position and stay there for the whole treatment but it constantly moved around. It is incredible that it even could adjust for my body moving by me breathing or my bladder filling up. It is hard for a lay person to take on board or grasp how incredible it is."
Ray works as a self-employed plasterer so the reduction in the number of treatment sessions was also a huge benefit to him.
"Last time it seemed I was always at hospital but this time I went to work early in the morning and then came to my appointment in the afternoon. It didn’t interfere with my life at all and this time I didn’t even experience any side effects.
"CyberKnife has given me an extra chance and will hopefully do so for many other patients, giving hope to a lot of people."
Supporters of The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity raised £4.1 million for the purchase and installation of CyberKnife at The Royal Marsden in Chelsea.
Your support helps us make a vital difference to the lives of cancer patients.