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Cape Town - The creation of a dedicated cancer treatment centre in Cape Town would revolutionise the local health care system, the National Research Foundation (NRF) said on Friday.
NRF CEO Albert van Jaarsveld said that by investing in a new machine for its iThemba Laboratory, many more patients with cancerous tumours would be able to take advantage of its neutron and proton therapy.
The lab in Faure treated patients with a cyclotron, an advanced machine which could accelerate and direct charged particles at very high speeds down a pipe to targeted areas on the human body. This proton therapy was especially efficient at blasting and reducing tumours in awkward places, without damaging surrounding healthy tissue.
The machine was in great demand by researchers. Health specialists at the centre only had access to the machine for four months a year, limiting the days open for treatment and the number of patients.
Many patients referred to the centre - the only one offering proton therapy on the continent - were forwarded to one of about 34 facilities overseas.
The NRF had approached Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi for funding and support of a dedicated cyclotron and treatment centre.
Motsoaledi was given a tour of the facility on Friday and seemed excited at its potential.
He said the public healthcare system must gear itself up for an “explosion” of non-communicable diseases like cancer.
“The whole world is going to experience an explosion of non-communicable diseases, amongst them cancer. Planning for cancer is very much planning for the future.”
He said the health department needed to invest in new technology to diagnose and treat these diseases.
“We are speaking to them (the facility) about their needs. Obviously they need doctors, they need training, but they also need some form of funding... we need that interdepartmental co-operation. Our agreement is that I must go back and do my homework to see how we are going to collaborate, so we have not yet arranged (anything).”
Van Jaarsveld said the cyclotron could not simply be placed in any hospital.
“You can't just transplant this to a hospital. You need physicists to generate and run a beam.”
Commercial proton therapy cost between US20,000 and US50,000 (R165,000 and R413,000) overseas. The price tag of a cyclotron ran into hundreds of millions of rands.
Motsoaledi said cancer patients were a priority. The department recently launched a cancer registry to track affected patients.
The minister said the registry would ensure patients did not “fall off the radar” and track the incidence, distribution and control of the disease. - Sapa