New hope in cancer fight


Estelle Wessels (62) has lung cancer but now has new hope. She’s the first recipient of three beacon electromagnetic transponders, each the size of a grain of rice, implanted in the tumour in her left lung.

The large tumour has enveloped her aorta but since last October the implants have been helping to target radiation treatments more accurately to try to shrink the tumour.

On a smallholding in Malmesbury, Western Cape, where she and her husband, Chris (76), live, she says, ‘‘I’ve been given 18 months to live but I don’t see it as a death sentence. Even if the tumour doesn’t shrink and I don’t live longer than predicted the research I’m taking part in will advance the treatment of lung cancer and might save someone else’s life.’’

Estelle is patient No 1 for Stellenbosch University’s respiratory research unit at Tygerberg Hospital.

Last year Calypso Medical Technologies in Seattle, America, chose the medical school over 20 other institutions to do the first human lung implants.

Five more SA patients and two in Switzerland have since received the devices. Eventually up to 60 patients will be monitored for at least a year to make sure the treatment is safe.

It’s a feather in SA’s cap to be chosen for this pioneering work, says Professor Chris Bolliger, director of respiratory research at the university’s faculty of health sciences.

‘‘These kinds of devices have been used in the prostate but a few anchors had to be added to those destined for the lungs to stop them falling out of the airways during breathing. A catheter is used to send the device down the airways to the lungs and once they’re in the right spot the anchors are positioned.’’

The procedure takes 20 minutes at most.

It’s not possible to predict how effective the treatment will be, he says. ‘‘What we can say is the potential is there to offer better treatment for lung cancer.’’

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