Team at Guy’s and St Thomas’ treats heart condition with SABR

Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust has used stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) to treat a patient with a dangerously abnormal heartbeat.

Retired HR director Sue Simons from Bromley in south-east London was the first patient to receive the treatment at the cancer centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ for ventricular tachycardia, in which faulty electrical signals in the ventricles cause the heart to beat faster than normal.

Simons has had heart disease for 30 years and suffered a cardiac arrest in 2009. She has received two heart valve replacements, a double bypass and was fitted with an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, which delivers paced beats and is able to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.

Despite having all the known conventional treatments available for her condition, Simons continued to experience episodes of ventricular tachycardia that could last between five and 15 minutes and see her heart race up to 200 beats per minute.

A team of cardiologists, cardiac electrophysiologists, clinical oncologists, radiologists, therapeutic radiographers and physicists worked together over several months to plan the SABR treatment. Simons underwent various scans and tests so the team could map out her heart and pinpoint the abnormal tissue that causes the ventricular tachycardia. This area was then treated with SABR to stop it forming the faulty electrical signal.

Consultant clinical oncologist Dr Shahreen Ahmad said: “SABR is a tried and tested treatment for cancer and has proved to be safe and potentially curative in this setting. Cardiac SABR for ventricular tachycardia has been investigated in preclinical and clinical research studies as a new way of treating this condition when conventional treatments have failed. We have consulted with other teams in the UK and USA in order to deliver the treatment safely and it is a testament to great collaborative working among colleagues in the NHS and beyond.”

SABR is delivered during one appointment; although the treatment only takes around 15 minutes the whole procedure can take more than an hour as the patient needs careful accuracy and precision checks before receiving the dose.

Simons said: “I have two mechanical valves in my heart so catheter ablation was not an option for me. If I didn’t have the SABR treatment the ventricular tachycardia would damage the function of my heart even more.

“Although this is an experimental treatment, I thought it was worth trying as it was the only hope of slowing my heartbeat down. It’s still early days, but I haven’t had any episodes of ventricular tachycardia since the treatment.”

Around 100 people worldwide have received SABR for ventricular tachycardia, 12 of them in the UK.

Picture: The team that carried out the SABR treatment on a patient with ventricular tachycardia.

Published on page 3 of the April 2022 issue of RAD Magazine.

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