New Hope for Breast Cancer Sufferers | Western Cape Government

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New Hope for Breast Cancer Sufferers

26 January 2006
New state-of-the-art equipment was installed at Tygerberg Hospital to service the community more effectively. The afterloader, that was acquired at a cost of R3,2 million, will increase the spectrum of radiation treatments available to patients in the Western Cape.

This new equipment will allow for the use of pioneering techniques in breast conserving therapy for early breast cancer by combining the surgery with one session of radiation in a single anaesthetic procedure. This technique can make a dramatic difference in the duration of the hospital stay.

Brachytherapy is done with an afterloader, such as the one we are inaugurating. Brachytherapy (or contact therapy) has the advantage over external beam radiotherapy that less normal tissue is radiated and that a higher radiation dose to the tumor can be delivered because the radiation source is very close to the tumor. The overall treatment time is also much shorter, a matter of a couple of days or even one day compared to 6 - 7 weeks of external beam therapy. For our population of whom a significant number live far away this short treatment time is a real advantage.

High Dose Rate Brachytherapy: Prof Fred Vernimmen: Radiotherapy

Brachytherapy is an internal form of radiation therapy. It involves the temporary placement of a radioactive material directly into or near a tumor. The volume of tissue that is treated is limited, and the surrounding normal tissue receives little or no radiation. The word "brachytherapy" means "short therapy," indicating that the radiation's effect is limited to short distances.

With HDR brachytherapy, the radioactive source is temporarily applied during treatment, and removed between treatments. HDR brachytherapy is delivered through thin catheters that have been implanted in the body under local or general anesthesia. These catheters remain in place until treatment is complete. Treatments are typically delivered over four to five days on an outpatient basis.

High dose rate brachytherapy is a highly precise form of radiation therapy that confines the dose to the area where recurrence from microscopic disease is most likely to occur. Since the dose can be applied directly to the tumor, doctors can deliver higher, more effective doses while sparing healthy tissue and surrounding organs. HDR brachytherapy may be combined with surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, or external beam radiation.

HDR brachytherapy has been utilised to treat:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Gynecological cancers of the cervix, uterus, vagina and vulva
  • Lung cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancers of the head and neck region such as tongue, tonsil, mouth, throat and neck
  • Sarcomas, which are cancers of soft tissues such as muscles

New hope for breast cancer sufferers : Prof Justus Apffelstaedt, Surgery

The use of this equipment offers new hope to breast cancer sufferers. It allows women recovering from breast cancer to receive their radiation treatment in a single highly targeted dose of 30 minutes, instead of daily doses delivered over 32 days.

In conventional therapy, the entire breast is irradiated after surgery to remove all traces of cancer. This not only makes the breast more fibrous, making it harder to assess the reoccurrence of tumours, but it is also disruptive and depressing for patients to have to make daily visits to a specially equipped radiation centre.

By administering the radiation in the initial operation, treatment is drastically shortened and breast conservation becomes an option for more women.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer among South African women, with one in every 10 women at risk. With this less invasive nature of this innovative procedure, more patients are able to return to their daily activities much quicker.

Martie Carstens
Public Relations: Tygerberg Academic Hospital Complex
Private Bag X3
Tygerberg, South Africa, 7505 021 938 5454
Fax: 021 938 4890

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