One of the least known departments within the hospital, the Radiotherapy Physics team provides a vital role supplying complex scientific and technical support to Plymouth’s Oncology department. We are a team of 20 staff comprising Clinical Scientists, Dosimetrists and Engineers.
No Radiotherapy treatments can be carried out without our involvement. Our Dosimetrists provide a dedicated treatment planning service working closely with Oncologists to produce highly accurate plans for our treatment machines in order that they can deliver targeted doses of radiation with millimetre precision. The radiotherapy treatment plans are highly complex requiring sophisticated computing systems. Although required to deliver 24% of radical plans in this fashion, we regularly achieve over 60%. Additionally, we are also responsible for designing and producing aids to immobilise patients enabling high levels of accuracy while they undergo treatment. Our Engineers undertake specialist training to keep the treatment machines running at peak performance and act as a first line of support in the event of a breakdown. Our HCPC-registered Clinical Scientists are all highly trained Physicists who have responsibility for ensuring that the treatment machines and associated clinical systems are calibrated to deliver the correct amount of radiation to the correct part of the body. The margin of error between successful treatment and untoward side effects is extremely narrow, so highly precise plans and accurate monitoring are needed to deliver the desired clinical outcomes.
In addition, we also advise our Oncology colleagues on aspects of radiobiology affecting patient treatments. Radiotherapy Physics also co-ordinate the Trust’s Brachytherapy services, during which we calibrate and deliver highly radioactive sources within the patient’s body, to treat different types of cancer. Our Stereotactic Radiotherapy service delivers highly precise treatment to cranial tumours using state of the art software and imaging to ensure that we deliver a fatal dose of radiation to the target whilst minimising damage to healthy surrounding tissue.
We are very involved in training within our section, providing teaching for the next generation of Clinical Scientists in addition to placements for student Radiographers and FRCR tutorials for Oncology Specialist Registrars. Staff also visit local schools as part of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) programme, engaging students and promoting careers within Medical Physics, which they find extremely rewarding.
The department has an active research and development programme, participating in national clinical trials and commissioning new cutting edge techniques in the fight against cancer. Staff members contribute to scientific journals and have submitted posters to international conferences. Several also sit on scientific committees within professional bodies, helping to shape the current and future direction of Radiotherapy services in the UK and Europe.
We are a sociable and diverse bunch, comprising staff from several countries including Portugal, Poland, Cyprus, Australia and even Scotland! Above all we meet the challenge of an ever-increasing patient workload in partnership with our Radiographer and Oncologist colleagues with a constant cheery determination.