DOCTORS at the Beatson have become the first in Scotland to offer a surgical procedure to stop the severe pain experienced by those with asbestos-caused cancer.

The world-class Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre in Glasgow began offering a cordotomy surgical procedure to patients experiencing overwhelming pain last month, which disables very fine pain-conducting fibres within the spinothalamic tract of the spinal cord to remove the sensation of severe pain.

A specialised needle is inserted in the neck and uses radio frequency to “burn” targeted pain nerves without affecting other nerves in the body. The procedure requires seven surgical theatre staff, takes less than an hour, and can transform the quality of a patient’s life.

The news has been welcomed by Clydebank Asbestos Group who have fought to raise awareness of the disease, which can often take decades before a patient will realise they have it.

Hope Robertson, the group’s secretary, told the Post: “Anything that’s going to improve a life of the sufferer has got to be good. Unfortunately, it has been one of those cancers that has been on the back burner for far too long and there’s no cure for it so anything that’s going to help is for the good. My husband died from mesothelioma so I know personally what a big help this will be and quite honestly it’s long overdue.”

The most commonly treated cancer is asbestos-related mesothelioma, which is most prevalent in areas with a history of shipbuilding, such as Clydebank, which was declared the capital of Europe for the deadly substance in 1996. Those with the disease will now have access to treatment in nearby Hyndland rather than travelling to Liverpool and Portsmouth where the only other UK treatment centres are based.

To be eligible for the procedure, patients will have to be referred by a palliative medicine consultant if they are experiencing overwhelming cancer related pain or unbearable side effects as a result of their cancer pain medications.

Patients deemed suitable will then be seen in an assessment clinic where it will be decided if a cordotomy is the most appropriate procedure.

Mrs Robertson added: “I think the problem has been people think because there is no heavy industry nowadays that asbestos doesn’t affect anybody. But it can take 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years and you can go along all that time with absolutely nothing wrong with you and then it rears it’s ugly head and it’s usually so far along nothing can be done.”

Dr Margaret Owen, consultant in anaesthesia and pain medicine with NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGCC), has been training for the last year in Portsmouth in order to offer cordotomies in Scotland.

The Beatson is the only centre in Scotland where palliative medicine and chronic pain staff run a joint service. Dr Alison Mitchell, lead consultant for interventional cancer pain service (ICPS), has been central to the work to develop the cordotomy service at the Beatson.

Dr Mitchell said: “We have operated an ICPS at the Beatson for the last 10 years and have been working over the last six years to be in a position where we can offer a cordotomy service here to patients experiencing severe pain due to cancer. “Until now patients who have been assessed suitable for a cordotomy procedure have been referred to Liverpool, However, this risks excluding a number of patients who are unfit, or do not wish, to travel.OThis procedure will help many more patients and improve their quality of life.”

Mesothelioma UK has provided funding towards the purchase of equipment, reconfiguring the theatre table and upgrading the image intensifier machine, while the Beatson Cancer Charity has provided funding towards maintaining a database and a radiofrequency machine.