First patient in Africa treated with RapidArc radiotherapy

14 Feb 2011

A 66-year-old prostate cancer patient has become the first person in Africa to be treated using RapidArc technology from Varian Medical Systems. The man received his treatment at the Netcare Unitas Hospital in the Pretoria suburb of Centurion in South Africa.

The advanced RapidArc system, which has been introduced clinically on the hospital’s Varian Clinac iX medical linear accelerator, delivers precise image-guided IMRT (intensity modulated radiotherapy) up to four times faster than conventional IMRT.

The RapidArc IMRT beam quickly delivers the dose while continuously rotating around the patient. Studies show that faster treatments allow for greater precision, since there is less chance of patient or tumor movement during treatment delivery and, with less time on the treatment couch, also allow for greater patient comfort.

“The first treatment went very smoothly and was completed in just two and a half minutes,” said Stanley Makgere, medical physicist in charge, adding that just two arcs were needed during treatment delivery. “Our team has experience in many treatment methods and we feel this is the best way to treat cancer patients with radiation because it is fast, precise and easy to use.

“RapidArc will benefit our patients in a number of ways but most importantly it will reduce the dose to critical structures and allow the clinicians to increase the dose to cancerous tissues.” The speed of the system will also make it possible for the hospital to treat more cancer patients with state of the art technology.

Mr. Makgere said his team intends to use RapidArc for prostate and head/neck cancer patients before introducing more complex procedures such as extra-cranial stereotactic treatments, which involve the use of very high-dose beams to quickly attack certain types of tumors in areas like the lung, liver, or spine.

Prior to the installation of the advanced Clinac iX linear accelerator — which was ordered in 2009 — the hospital’s radiotherapy department was equipped with a single energy machine with no beam-shaping accessories, so the new technology enables patients to benefit from far more advanced techniques than previously possible.

The 470-bed Netcare Unitas Hospital is the flagship of the Netcare group’s 54 private hospitals across South Africa, offering world-class healthcare services to patients from across Pretoria, Johannesburg, Mpumalanga and Swaziland. The radiotherapy department treats about 300 new patients annually.

“South Africa has always kept abreast of global developments in cancer treatment but the number of linear accelerators per capita in both the public and private sectors is still very low compared to other countries,” says Dr. Makgere.

“With great distances between cities, the treatment centers are not easily accessible to many communities and there are still long waiting lists for treatment in public sector hospitals. Here at Netcare Unitas however, we are generally able to start treating patients within two weeks of diagnosis and one week after referral to our facility by the radiation oncologist.”

Fritz Derrer, Varian’s regional sales manager, said, “The team at Netcare Unitas has been able to introduce RapidArc just a few weeks after first introducing conventional IMRT, which is testament to the capability of the team and the ease of use of the system. Along with our local representative Tecmed Africa, we are honored to be working with this pioneering hospital to introduce advanced techniques for the benefit of cancer patients in South Africa.”


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