Seven-year-old boy first in SA to receive volumetric arc therapy for cancer

18 August 2020 - 09:53 By Nomahlubi Jordaan
A seven-year-old boy is the first in SA to receive volumetric arc therapy as part of treatment. File photo.
A seven-year-old boy is the first in SA to receive volumetric arc therapy as part of treatment. File photo.
Image: Sebastian Kaulitzki / 123rf.com

A seven-year-old boy has become the first person in the country to receive volumetric arc therapy to treat his leukaemia.

The therapy was performed on the boy recently at Netcare Unitas Hospital in Centurion.

“The total body irradiation treatment was done in order to destroy the cancer cells in the young boy’s blood ahead of a bone-marrow transplant that he was scheduled to undergo just days after the completion of the radiation therapy,” said Dr Sheynaz Bassa, a clinical and radiation oncologist at the hospital.

“As far as we are aware, this is the first time in SA that a leukaemia patient has been treated using volumetric arc therapy prior to bone marrow transplantation,” Bassa said.

According to Bassa, a combination of radiotherapy, which uses high energy X-rays, and chemotherapy, which uses drugs given intravenously to kill cancer cells, is traditionally used to irradiate the entire body to destroy cancer cells in leukaemia patients before their bone marrow transplantation.

“Using traditional techniques, full-body irradiation is usually a long and laborious process involving complicated manual planning techniques, with the patient sitting in an uncomfortable treatment position for a long period of time.

“It also often requires production and use of cumbersome lead blocks to shield important organs like the lungs which are radiosensitive. The accuracy in the radiation dose to these organs is reduced due to the manual planning techniques and the patient does not have the benefit of a CT [computed tomography] scan being used in the planning,” said Bassa.

 “Newer, more advanced technologies such as volumetric arc therapy allow for simpler, rapid and more effective full-body irradiation treatment delivery. This therapy is quicker, easier and provides us with information regarding the organs we are trying to protect, making it considerably safer. Lead blocks are no longer required, as the volumetric arc technology has built in capability to shape fields around the organs as the therapy is delivered.”

According to Bassa, in the boy’s case the radiation therapy planners did extensive research before deciding on the use of volumetric arc technology, drawing on international experience in which a similar treatment approach had been used for leukaemia to ensure the most accurate planning and treatment possible.

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