04 August 2010

New weapon in cancer fight

A new state-of-the-art oncology radiation centre that was recently opened at the Netcare Unitas Hospital in Pretoria is set to improve cancer treatment outcomes.


A new state-of-the-art oncology radiation centre that was recently opened at the Netcare Unitas Hospital in Pretoria is set to improve cancer treatment outcomes. Viewed as an important development in the fight against cancer, it affords new hope for cancer sufferers.

The Radiotherapy Department has been upgraded with hi-tech equipment and offers the very latest in radiation treatment available anywhere in the world, according to Netcare Unitas Hospital Manager Adelle Johnstone. She says that the Radiotherapy Department offers more precise and quicker radiation treatment than was previously possible.
"We are very proud to launch this new Radiotherapy Department to Gauteng," she says. "The new unit supports the aim of providing more South Africans with the best treatment possible. With its highly trained staff and outstanding new equipment, we expect this department to become one of the most important radiation treatment centres in the Gauteng region."

Unit Manager Chanson van Heerden explains that radiotherapy is a radiation treatment to eliminate cancer cells. It can be used to try and cure a patient and to prevent cancer from coming back or, in other cases, just to treat cancer symptoms and to make a patient feel better. It is sometimes used on its own or it may be employed in conjunction with other treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or surgery. She notes that the Radiotherapy Department powerfully complements the hospital’s outstanding Oncology Department, which is one of the best known cancer treatment centres in the country.

Varian Silhouette Rapidarc

The unit has recently been equipped with a Varian Silhouette Rapidarc radiotherapy system. The Varian system is a very fast radiotherapy machine (it takes two minutes to complete its 360-degree treatment cycle), which allows tumours to be targeted with enormous accuracy. The system not only allows more patients to be treated more quickly, but also ensures that there is less tissue damaged around the cancerous area being treated. Two photon energies (6MV and 5MV) and various electron energies (6, 9, 12 and 16 MeV) have been installed so that the doses of radiation can be accurately adjusted to meet the circumstance. A staff member from the Radiotherapy Department recently went to Switzerland to be trained in the planning of Rapidarc treatment.
"The dose distribution with the Rapidarc is impressive," suggests Van Heerden. "One can treat the cancerous areas to higher doses while avoiding sensitive organs or tissue. One can treat a part of the brain, for example, while making sure that the beams don’t affect the patient’s eyes or any other sensitive area."

On Board Imaging

On Board Imaging (OBI) also helps improve the accuracy of the treatment. Prior to the treatment the exact location, size and shape of the patient's tumour can be observed through a simple two-minute imaging procedure using the machine's OBI. According to Van Heerden, the Radiotherapy Department at the Netcare Unitas Hospital has the only Rapidarc with OBI in Gauteng.

The radiation unit was first opened in July 1989 and possessed the country’s first linear accelerator in the private sector. The unit was started with three staff members all of whom are still working there today. In October 2009 the unit was closed down temporarily in order to undertake the current upgrade. The new Netcare Unitas Hospital Radiotherapy Department treated its first two patients on 1 June. It is currently treating 22 patients. Van Heerden says that when the unit is fully operational it should be able to treat as many as 35 to 40 patients a day.

Patients' stories

Danise Smit of Pretoria says that she had to have treatment at the unit every day of the week for six weeks recently and she was working full time. Danise who was suffering from breast cancer notes that the process was frightening in the beginning, but that the staff at the Radiation Department were "phenomenal and very supportive throughout" thereby making it so much easier for her.

"It was a little scary having to go into that radiation machine on my own at first," she admits. "However the team at the centre took the trouble to explain the process and exactly what was going to happen to my family and I. They really made me feel like I wasn't alone through what was a very difficult time."
Danise points out that the staff rarely kept her waiting and if there ever was a delay, they immediately made sure they accommodated her. They did everything they could to make her comfortable at all times. "Now I am officially in remission," she says proudly.
Hawa S Bhamjee had her last radiation treatment session last Friday. She is being treated with a combination of radiation and chemotherapy. She starts with chemotherapy next week and is full of hope that it will go well.
Hawa says she asked for her treatment at the Netcare Unitas Hospital Radiotherapy Department to be delayed until the new radiation technology became fully operational. She notes the radiation therapy went very well and she was most impressed with the unit. Hawa observes that all of the staff at the unit were "very helpful and is most grateful" for the support they gave her.
Johnstone suggests that Netcare Unitas Hospital Radiotherapy Department is an important weapon in Netcare's fight against cancer and with the upgrades is now a carefully honed and targeted weapon. She says that it takes radiation oncology to "a whole new level" and she believes it is likely to become an important centre of hope to cancer sufferers in the Pretoria region.
Situated in the Pretoria suburb of Centurion, Netcare Unitas Hospital is the largest private hospital in South Africa as well as on the African continent.  The 470-bed facility is the flagship of the Netcare group's 54 private hospitals across South Africa, and offers world-class healthcare services enabled by the latest technology, a team of highly experienced medical professionals and a commitment to render exceptional services to all stakeholders.
Issued by : Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Unitas Hospital


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