Cobalt Health expert insight: How we continue to bring quality healthcare to Gloucestershire

Iain Lyburn, Cobalt’s Medical Director and Consultant Radiologist for Cobalt and the NHS speaks to SoGlos about the importance of breast cancer research, a new 3D Mammography scanner and how people can get involved in supporting research at the centre.

As Breast Cancer Awareness Month takes place in October 2019, we speak to Iain Lyburn about the importance of breast cancer research and the impact this has on treatment, and how people can get involved with medical charity Cobalt to support breast cancer research.

About the expert – Cobalt Health

Created in 1964, Cobalt is a local medical charity that believes everyone should have access to the best medical imaging for their diagnosis. To help this happen, Cobalt offers support to new carefully selected medical projects and helps to facilitate other developments for the people of Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Worcestershire, and beyond. It has been supporting breast cancer screening services in Gloucestershire for over thirty years.

Iain Lyburn is Cobalt’s Medical Director and a Consultant Radiologist, working both at Cobalt and at the Thirlestaine Breast Centre. He’s involved in medical research and breast screening.

For more information about medical charity Cobalt, visit

Cobalt has recently raised funds for new equipment for the Thirlestaine Breast Centre in Cheltenham. What is this new technology, and what does it do?

We’ve been lucky at the Thirlestaine Breast Centre because we have this new state-of-the-art three-dimensional technology gifted to us by Cobalt. In addition to the standard digital machines, we can now undertake different tests where you can do many scans. Rather than taking just one picture, we can do lots and lots of images through the breast.

At the moment, everyone has to go through the same mammography programme. This programme starts when you’re about 47 or 50 years old, and you then get a mammogram every three years. We now know that this programme should be more stratified, meaning that it should be more intense for some people and less intense for others. This is to do with the breast density along with other factors.

This new machine is able to look at dense breasts more closely and also has the ability to do Contrast Enhanced Mammography, where you inject a dye which helps to outline blood vessels as well as cancers. Patients with breast cancer now often get chemotherapy before the operation to help shrink the tumour, and so it’s a good way of monitoring and studying the breast to see how the chemotherapy has worked.

When it comes to removing tumours, surgeons like to get as much information as possible to try and excise all cancerous tissue. Having a good imaging test before and after is a good way of helping to check that.

What can new patients expect when they go for their first mammogram scan?

People can be anxious if they don’t know anything about it. It’s important to get the message across that most of the time, people have a mammogram done and everything’s fine and we don’t bring them back in.

When you go for your first mammogram, the breast is put in the machine and gently compressed. Two pictures of each breast are taken and then you go away and two professionals look at the images independently. If they both agree that everything’s fine, you’ll get a result back through the post usually within two weeks. If they don’t agree, you’ll get asked to come back and take some more pictures. If you’re called back, it doesn’t mean you should worry; about eight per cent of people come back having had their first mammogram, and very often it’s nothing. But without having something to compare the original images to, you can’t know if there’s something hiding behind certain bits of tissue.

Our new technology helps to scan the breast in a different way. Plus, if you need it done, there’s a new biopsy device attached to it which is very helpful; it can pinpoint more accurately where the biopsy will be taken.

Why is continual breast cancer funding so important to Cobalt?

Medicine is changing rapidly all the time, and we always want to remain state-of-the-art, which is quite difficult with the fiscal state of the country. Getting the equipment is more difficult as the health service struggles for funds. We’re often not quite at the frontline because we’re not A&E. That’s why having any extra additional support from medical charity Cobalt is so helpful. Getting new equipment and help with research will always be in demand.

At the moment, Cobalt is raising funds for new research nurses. How will these posts benefit Cobalt and future patients?

The idea of doing research across the UK is difficult; anything new is challenging as we batten down the hatches in terms of NHS funding. Staff are very busy in clinic and recruiting patients into trials can take quite a lot of time. So, having these Breast Research nurses will be brilliant for us because they’ll have dedicated time to talk to patients about new trials. This will help us to develop and participate in important research trials and benefit patients now and into the future. Good research and innovation helps hospitals and it is really important to invest in the future

Will Brexit affect Cobalt’s ability to source treatment or new technology?

One of the things Brexit will affect is the exchange rate. In terms of people, we would like to recruit from anywhere we can, and a lot of people do come from Europe. But I don’t expect any dramatic change. It’s like everyone else – the potential long-term implications may or may not affect us.

How can people get involved in fundraising for Cobalt?

Staff at the charity are very friendly and want to encourage people to have a chat with them about any fundraising ideas and events and, if you’re stuck for ideas, there is a fundraising pack with lots of ways to help the appeal.

We need to raise £66,000 each year to fund the new research nurses. Every donation, no matter the size, is important. Cobalt are asking all people – including individuals, community groups, businesses, trusts and foundations who want to support the fund for breast cancer research nurses to donate what they can and 100% of every donation will go the appeal. £128 funds a research nurse for a day to give patients access to the best care and treatments.

The email address for the fundraising department is and the telephone number is (01242) 535922. The team there are always enthusiastic and there’s no commitment. Some people start not thinking about it much, and they end up doing all sorts of things, which is great!

What’s in the pipeline for Cobalt?

We want to be a leading research department for Gloucestershire. Once you start trials you have the ability to bring in money into the department, but the funding comes in retrospectively, so the idea of this appeal is to pump prime the research by having the research nurses there so we can then recruit to the trials and then the funding can, in time, start paying for these posts.

We are keen to have patients involved in our work and with our trials – these new research nurses will be able to ensure patients are involved right at the beginning so that with Cobalt’s support we can bring the best quality healthcare to Gloucestershire.

To find out more about getting involved with fundraising for Cobalt, email, call (01242) 535922, or visit

By Amy Wright

© SoGlos
Thursday 03 October 2019

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