Hospital phobic patient cured of skin cancer with unique high dose radiotherapy treatment

A skin cancer patient treated at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester has been given a special kind of high dose radiotherapy on his face to remove a tumour on his nose without the need for surgery. 

Gary Martin, 52, who has suffered from a severe fear of hospitals since he was 13 years old, was left depressed and self-conscious after repeated laser treatment for skin cancer couldn’t remove the lesion on his nose.

Needing to avoid surgery due to his phobia, a procedure which would have also left his face scarred, he initially, over a 4-year period, endured a total of 9 sessions of PDT (photodynamic therapy) laser treatment, but the cancer kept coming back. 

The Christie then suggested trying skin HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy, a more intense but shorter radiotherapy treatment, which is more commonly used to treat prostate and cervical cancer patients. In November 2018, Gary was given 8 minute sessions twice a day for four days. Thankfully the brachytherapy treatment was successful and the cancer was cured, and now Gary just has to return every 6 months for check-ups. 

Gary, who is married to Deborah, and works in the frozen food import and export industry, discovered a scab on his nose while on holiday in 2012. He realised it was more than just a spot when it kept bleeding. The dad of 2 grown-up daughters, from Stockport in Greater Manchester, was otherwise fit and healthy. 

Gary explained: “I’ve had a fear of hospitals since I went in to have a cyst removed from my face when I was 13. I literally did a runner and didn’t have the op. The thought of surgery terrifies me. So I wanted to avoid surgery at all costs. The PDT laser treatment just couldn’t shift the scab on my nose. It just kept coming back.
"Skin brachytherapy wasn’t an easy option but it was the lesser of 2 evils and also it wouldn’t scar me as surgery would. The first time I lay on the table for the treatment I had a serious wobble as my head was pinned down, but I knew I wasn’t trapped.
"I counted the tunes on my phone and thought of all the places I’d love to visit. That was what got me through it. If you can be at peace, then your mind can cope with anything. I knew I was in good hands due to The Christie’s skills and expertise.
“I think I got the skin cancer from playing out as a kid. Since having children myself, we plastered them in factor 50 and I used it on myself too. I’ve always been sensible when out in the sun but I’m now extra carefuI and use a SPF factor 40 every day, cover up, wear a hat and stay indoors in the afternoons.”

Consultant oncologist at The Christie, Dr Agata Rembielak, said: “The Christie is the leading centre for skin brachytherapy in the UK. We have developed a ‘Christie method’ using a special mould for the treated area. The dose of radiation is the highest possible and very precise. Although Gary’s cancer wasn’t life threatening it can have a devastating impact on quality of life. We are really pleased with the outcome we have achieved for Gary. He’s been a fantastic patient and it’s great to see how undergoing this therapy has improved his life.
“At The Christie, we have a long history of treating patients with radiotherapy going right back to just after radiation was discovered at the end of the 19th century. Skin brachytherapy is not a new treatment. We’ve been using it for 80 or 90 years. But we have been able to refine the procedure. The radiation is delivered very precisely to the area affected by cancer, avoiding the healthy skin and surrounding tissues. 
“As we approach the summer months, we must remember that non melanoma skin cancer is the most common cancer in adults. The number of cases has sky rocketed in recent years. It can have a devastating emotional effect on patients and their families. Reducing exposure to the sun is the best way to avoid it.”

Last updated: May 2021