Cyclotron at Liverpool Hospital is 'lighting-up' hidden cancerous tumours

As Elizabeth Doonan stared at her PET scans she couldn't comprehend what she was seeing.

The image of her translucent body was stained with opaque black markings.

"It was really, really frightening," Ms Doonan said.

"It was everywhere. There was so much in there and I hadn't even known I was sick."

Ms Doonan had stage four diffuse B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The cancer had spread to every lymph gland and through her bone marrow.

The extent to which cancers like lymphoma can spread through the body can be notoriously difficult to detect. But there was no mistaking the black blotches in Ms Doonan's scans.

The 53-year-old was one of the first patients at a new molecular science cyclotron facility at Liverpool Hospital.

The cyclotron - a particle accelerator - produces proton beams, generating radioisotopes that are injected into a patient before they have a positron emission tomography (PET) scan.

The radioactive tracers light up tumours by latching onto cancer cell receptors, making them more easily identifiable and traceable, via the PET scans.

The technology means clinicians can potentially diagnose cancers at earlier stages and determine how aggressive the cancer is and the extent to which it has spread, said Dr Peter Lin, Liverpool Hospital head of Nuclear Medicine and South Western Sydney Local Health District Medical Imaging director.

It also enables doctors to better target therapies and monitor cancer growths over the course of treatment to track its effectiveness to help patients avoid unnecessary exposure to harmful overtreatment.

"This technology also allows us to see more clearly whether the drugs used to treat the cancer are working," Dr Lin said.

Officially launched on Thursday, Dr Lin expects between 4000 and 5000 patients every year - with cancers including lymphoma lung, pancreatic, head and neck, breast and prostate - will benefit from personalised, precision cancer treatment the facility offered.

"Getting diagnosed and treated for cancer and other diseases can be a frightening time for patients and their families. This facility will help us provide physicians with the answers they need quickly and effectively."

Over one year after her diagnosis, the black marks denoting no longer marked her PET scans.

"Because of this service [the doctors] were on top of it early," Ms Doonan said.

After six cycles of chemotherapy, a clear scan meant she didn't need to endure anymore, or move onto radiation therapy.

"It meant I could go on and live a normal life," Ms Doonan said.

"The joy and relief is just unimaginable."

The cyclotron tracer technology also offered significant research potential for tracking the progression of dementia and other neurological diseases, Dr Lin said.

A similar facility is located at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown, but the new facility at Liverpool Hospitals is the first time patients in Western Sydney will have access to the technology offering more precise diagnostics and treatment services close to home.

The story Cyclotron at Liverpool Hospital is 'lighting-up' hidden cancerous tumours first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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