Mon | May 20, 2019

Linear accelerator revolutionising cancer treatment in Jamaica

Published:Monday | December 11, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Head of Radiation at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, Dr Praveen Sharma (left), makes a point to Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton (centre) on the use of the linear accelerator machine as Everton Anderson, chief executive officer of the National Health Fund, looks on.
A section of the linear accelerator.

With cancer being among the leading causes of deaths worldwide and accounting for 21 per cent of deaths in Jamaica, the opening of the first of two modern cancer treatment centres at the Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James is expected to revolutionise the way cancer treatment is administered in Jamaica.

The project, at a cost of US$14.5 million [J$1.7 billion], was funded by various donors, led by the National Health Fund. This covers the building and outfitting of the two centres, the second of which will be based at the St Joseph's Hospital in Kingston.

The centre is equipped with a linear accelerator, which is the primary technology being used around the world to provide radiation therapy and treat various types of cancers. Dr Praveen Sharma, consultant radiation oncologist at the Cornwall Regional Hospital, explained that the cobalt machines which were being used in Jamaica for cancer treatment were not only limited with respect to their capacity, but have also exceeded their useful life, making treatment less effective and more risky.


Stringent safety protocols


"Until now in Jamaica, radiotherapy was delivered using cobalt machines. In cobalt machines, there is a radioactive cobalt source which is giving out radiation 24/7 and is placed in the head of the machine. From a radiation safety point of view, we have to be more stringent in our safety protocols," he said.

Sharma said the linear accelerator gives the radiation oncology team, among other advantages, the ability to use CT/MRI/PET scan to do 3D conformal planning, whereby the radiation can be precisely directed to the tumour tissue while sparing the surrounding normal structure, thus effectively reducing the side effects.

"When we were planning treatments on cobalt machines, we were only able to do a 2D, or what we call X-ray-based treatments. The patients' (treatments) were being planned by taking X-rays of the areas to be treated. With the acquisition of a new state-of-the-art CT simulator, the difference now is that we are able to visualise the internal organs and delineate the tumour better using the CT scans," Sharma explained.

He said the machine will allow doctors to shape the radiation beam and offer other techniques of radiation treatment, such as IMRT and RapidArc, which were not possible with cobalt machines.

Centres to provide world-class treatment to all

The opening of the first of two modern cancer treatment centres, at the Cornwall Regional Hospital (CRH) in St James, is expected to give all Jamaicans currently using the public health system access to world-class technology.

National Health Fund (NHF) CEO Everton Anderson said the cancer treatment centres were a necessary undertaking to ensure Jamaicans have access to the best cancer care right here in the country, removing the need to travel abroad for treatment, an endeavour that a majority of Jamaicans simply cannot afford.

"The Ministry of Health would not embark on a project of this magnitude in terms of cost and people resources without it being a project that they understand will have far-reaching implications for Jamaica," Anderson said. "The centre was necessary and will go a far way towards reducing the cost of cancer treatment incurred by the Jamaican people, reducing the financial burden on their health care and improving the quality of care to cancer patients through shorter treatment times and more precise treatment with less damage or less side effects of radiation therapy cancer treatment."

Dr Praveen Sharma, consultant radiation oncologist at the CRH, said the centre was now able to deliver 80 to 90 per cent of the treatments that are available in radiotherapy worldwide.

"This type of technology is what is now the standard in radiotherapy worldwide. All the development that is happening in the radiotherapy field is about improving the ability to deliver radiation to the tumour and spare the surrounding normal areas. With a little upgrade on this machine, which it is capable of, we will be able to do stereotactic treatment and motion management (4D treatments), which is delivering the radiation to the moving areas, like the lung, more precisely."

In thanking the donors, Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said the opening of the centre symbolised the critical requirement for public health to be relevant, applicable and effective to bring stakeholders together in partnership to provide for the needs of the population.

"In the halls of the highest governing body on global health, the World Health Organization, it is reported that by 2030, the world will require another 30 million health-care professionals to satisfy the needs of global health. The reality is that we will never survive on our own as Government if we do not engage, embrace and partner with private sector, NGOs and all the well-wishers who want to be part of the process."

The project was funded through a US$10-million donation from the NHF, with additional donations from the CHASE Fund, Tourism Enhancement Fund, the Vincent Hosang Foundation and the Jamaica Association of Administrative Professionals. The second facility will open in the first quarter of 2018.