Nanette Joubert from the Medical Physics Department at Groote Schuur, explaining how the new Halcyon machine for cancer patients works. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town - Groote Schuur Hospital’s Oncology Department on Wednesday unveiled its new R35 million halcyon radiotherapy machine, which was recently introduced to manage the growing demand of cancer patients who require treatment.

This is the latest investment in the department following the construction of a new bunker, the installation of two radiotherapy machines and the addition of a new state-of-the-art brachytherapy machine.

The hospital’s oncology unit treats about 3000 patients a year, which increases annually.

Half of these patients often require radiotherapy, either as curative or palliative treatment for their cancer.

Groote Schuur Hospital also treats more than 38 000 follow-up patients each year.

With the new halcyon radiotherapy machine, the hospital would be able to treat between 30 and 40 patients a day.

The new halcyon radiotherapy machine with its linear particle accelerator (linac) features will offer high-quality radiotherapy.

An advantage includes delivering image-guided, intensity-modulated radiation therapy, or volumetric arc therapy that is four times faster than standard technology - thus reducing the waiting times that patients experience before being treated.

According to the hospital’s radiation oncology head, Jeannette Parkes, the machine boasts features of auto-quality assurance checks, simplified treatment procedures and a design incorporating self-shielding.

“Yet, the halcyon is able to treat complicated radiotherapy plans that conform to the highest standards in the world.

“Image guidance allows the treatment team to acquire a cone beam CT of the treatment area in seconds while the patient is in position on the treatment bed, and fuse that with the planning CT images.

“This allows accurate verification of the patient’s position during every radiotherapy treatment day.

“This is particularly important for patients who are being treated in areas where soft-tissue organs can move with daily physiological changes,” said Parkes.

Radiotherapist Samantha Wessels, left, and Samerah Bray with the new Halcyon radiotherapy machine. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Patient Francois de Villiers praised the speed of the new machine.

“The treatment you get here from reception, doctors and administration is just wonderful,” he said.

“My journey with cancer comes from 2011 and I guess at the end of the day I came to an understanding that people who had beat cancer (could) die of other causes, but it is great to know that there are people who beat cancer.

“Cancer is not a condition, it is just a way that people get sick, and with modern technology you can beat it. This is the different manifestation of the cancer, and the moral of the story here is at any given time anyone of us can die,” De Villiers added.

According to the hospital, the halcyon machine is groundbreaking because it has a totally different design to other linacs, closely resembling a CT scanner.

It is also more robust, safer, more automated in terms of operation and quality assurance, and opens the doors for safer, better treatment for a high number of patients.

It integrates into the existing Varian ARIA oncology management system, which has recently been upgraded to run on the latest software.

Cape Times