South Africa: University makes medical history


By Kim Helfrich:

Pretoria University’s Nuclear Medicine Department has made a breakthrough in radiation treatment for people with inoperable liver tumours.The procedure, known as selective internal radiation therapy (Sirt), allows cancerous tumours on a liver to be removed without any intrusive surgical procedure.“About 3500 South Africans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer annually, of which about 85% are inoperable.

Patients with inoperable liver tumours often have a poor prognosis even when treated with modern systemic chemotherapy and/or biological agents,” said Prof Mike Sathekge, head of nuclear medicine at Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria.

Others who stand to benefit from Sirt are the more than 5000 South Africans diagnosed as having colorectal cancer. In more than 40% of these patients the disease will spread to the liver and cannot be surgically removed.

Sirt uses SIR-spheres microspheres (yttrium-90 resin microspheres) in internal radio therapy to remove liver cancers. The microspheres are inserted through the hepatic artery feeding the tumour vessel. This goes directly to the affected area and dissolves the cancerous tumour or reduces it in size without damaging surrounding tissue.

Sathekge called it: “an exciting innovative radiation treatment, of which we are proud to be the first hospital in South Africa to introduce. The availability of this radio-embolisation therapy means new treatment options for patients and advances healthcare for South Africans.”

He sees it particularly benefitting the poor because it is only available at an academic hospital where monitoring levels are higher and further research can also be done. “Location in a university hospital is perfect with a multi-disciplinary team to manage and monitor patient progress.”

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The hospital’s CEO Dr Ernest Kenoshi said the procedure would probably cost about R120000 in a private hospital. “Public sector patients will undergo an assessment to determine fees but the poorest of the poor will receive treatment at no cost. Placing this therapy in a public hospital increases accessibility to the general public. We at Steve Biko Academic see it as not for monetary gain but for patient benefit as well as advancing healthcare in the country.”

Bringing quality healthcare to poor South Africans was one of the major aims of the partnership between the Gauteng department of health and the university.