New cancer treatment at Netcare faster, more accurate

Cancer treatment in Africa received an important “shot in the arm” with the commissioning of a cutting edge radiotherapy system at the Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion, Pretoria, recently.

 The system is the Varian Silhouette RapidArc Linear Accelerator and it is the first of its kind to be commissioned on the continent, according to Netcare Unitas Hospital Manager Adelle Johnstone. Johnstone says that the Varian Silhouette RapidArc Linear Accelerator, which is available locally from Tecmed, delivers treatment very quickly, allowing tumours to be targeted with great precision.

The Varian forms part of the hospital’s new radiation unit, which was officially opened in July 2010 last year. Johnstone points out that radiotherapy is an important weapon in the fight against cancer and is used to destroy cancerous tumours. It can be used on its own or in conjunction with other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy or surgery.

“The Varian Silhouette RapidArc is a new generation radiotherapy delivery system that is a great step forward for this form of treatment,” she points out. “The system allows Netcare Unitas Hospital to provide radiation therapy treatment that is comparable to that available anywhere else in the world.”

Two minute treatment cycle

Stanley Makere, Netcare Medical Physicist Manager for the Gauteng region, notes that the Varian RapidArc takes just two minutes to complete its treatment cycle. The cycle is so quick that it greatly improves patient comfort compared with the more traditional IMRT (intensity modulated radiotherapy) approaches.

“We have patients who cannot believe how quickly and comfortably their treatment is completed,” he points out. “Even more importantly perhaps, the speed of the system ensures much greater accuracy in targeting cancerous cells.”

He explains that the RapidArc rotates 360¢ª around the patient allowing tiny beams to be aimed at the tumour from multiple angles. This helps to ensure that a uniform dose of ionizing radiation is delivered on the targeted tumour.

The doses of radiation can also be adjusted on the Varian RapidArc so that treatment can be tailored to meet the exact needs of each patient. “You can administer strong but precise doses of radiation to small areas or lower the dose administered in cases where this may be necessary. ”

Treatment accuracy increased too

Makere says that greater treatment accuracy is also achieved during treatment through the use of the on board imaging (OBI) that is fitted to the system. The OBI allows the exact location, size and shape of the tumour to be established in a matter of minutes.

According to the Manager of the Radiotherapy unit at the Netcare Unitas Hospital, Chanson van Heerden, it is Varian RapidArc’s ability to control dose distribution and to provide highly targeted treatment that sets it apart from traditional treatment technologies. However, the system brings with it other advantages.

For example, its rapid treatment cycle allows more patients to be treated in a day than has previously been possible. She observes that once staff at the Netcare Unitas Hospital Radiotherapy unit are completely familiar with the system they should be able to treat between 35 and 40 patients a day should that prove necessary.

Patient backlogs are not likely to occur with the Varian RapidArc.

Staff members trained overseas

The radiation unit at the Netcare Unitas Hospital was opened in 1989 with three staff members, all of whom are still working there today. They were sent to Switzerland to be trained in all aspects of the Varian RapidArc and are all experts in its operation.

The Netcare Unitas Hospital radiation centre has always been pioneering being the first private unit to possess a linear accelerator. It was temporarily closed in October 2009 so that it could be upgraded and reopened in the middle of 2010.

“The Varian is such a versatile system and gives us so many more treatment options than were previously available to us,” concludes Van Heerden. “We expect that this cutting edge technology will help make our facility a centre for radiation treatment in the entire Gauteng 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.  - (Press release, February 2011)

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