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Curing cancer

health-and-fitness Updated: Dec 12, 2010 00:45 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Most people believe cancer treatment is long and painful, but Suhasini Singh, 35 (name changed) knows otherwise. Singh's 10-year-old son Soham (name changed) was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in June, after two nodes behind his right ear turned out to be cancerous.

"He was treated and is cured now. He doesn't know he had cancer and we want it to stay that way," she said.

Soham underwent four cycles of chemotherapy and 15-days of radiation therapy at Max Cancer Centre in Saket. The reason he is clueless about his big problem is because he underwent treatment using a new high-precision radiation equipment called Novalis, which involves no sedation or frame to hold the head and neck in place.

"Soham had to lie back for 15 minutes for each radiotherapy session. He's now back to school with no sign of side-effects or trauma associated with weeks of radiation and chemotherapy," said Suhasini. The treatment cost Rs 4 lakh.

Ten lakh (one million) people develop cancer in India each year, with the disease projected to rise five-fold by 2025 - 2.8 times because of tobacco use and 2.2 due to ageing.

"Cancer kills 50 people every hour while 100 other people are diagnosed with it within the same time, making cancer the fourth biggest killer disease and cause of death in India," said Dr G K Rath, head, Rotary Cancer Institute, All India Institute of Medical Sciences.

Cutting-edge cure
"New technology has changed cancer management", said Dr A K Anand, chief, radiation therapy at Max Cancer Centre.

"Improved accuracy and better access to the tumour shortens the duration of treatment from the conventional six to eight weeks of radiation therapy to one to two week."

Patients are queuing up even though the cost is 20-25% higher than conventional radiotherapy. Eighty patients are undergoing radiotherapy using the Novalis Tx within a week of Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit inaugurating it at New Delhi's Apollo Hospital.

"Its flexibility and precision allow the delivery of high doses of radiation to tumours and lesions that are difficult to reach, such as those placed deep within the body, or those in the lungs and liver that move when the patient breathes," said Dr G K Jadhav, senior consultant in radiation oncology, Apollo Hospital.

"Since most tumours are irregular in shape, conventional fixed-beam radiation dose cannot completely conform to the shape. This equipment shapes the beam precisely to hit the tumour or lesion, minimising side effects and damage to the healthy tissue," he added.

Earlier this year, a similar image-guided robotic radiosurgical device was installed at Apollo Chennai and HCG (HealthCare Global), Bangalore.

"These new image-guidance and motion management tools help in tracking targeted tissues even if they are moving, making real-time CT scans possible. This helps pinpoint the position of the tumour at every movement, making it possible to deliver the required dose accurately and safely," said Jadhav.

Conventional options
Since radiosurgery can treat roughly 30% of all cancers, most people have to rely on surgery and transplants for treatment. In September, Abdulla Bilal, 24, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia, a type of blood cancer and is all set to go home to Rampur in western Uttar Pradesh next month after undergoing a bone-marrow transplant at (BMT) Apollo Hospital.

"I had typhoid in August, after which I developed acute headaches that would not go away. I went to three hospitals before getting the correct diagnosis at Holy Family hospital, after which I was referred to Apollo for a BMT," said Bilal.

Since Bilal had an aggressive leukaemia, doctors decided to go for transplant immediately after a week of induction chemotherapy.

"We found a tissue match (HLA match typing) with his sister, who donated healthy bone marrow cells," said Dr Jyotishankar Raychaudhuri, senior consultant, blood and marrow transplantation, Apollo Hospital.

Unlike other transplants, BMT involves no surgery.

"Donating for bone-marrow transplants is no different from blood donation and is similar to donating platelets to dengue patients. It takes less than three to four hours," said Dr Raychaudhuri.

Chemotherapy to wash away residual cancer cells and a 35-day hospital stay later, the only signs of the transplant are Bilal's mask - which he will wear for another month till his immune system becomes strong - and the immuno-suppressant drugs he has to take to stop his body from rejecting the foreign donor cells. The transplant cost him Rs 13 lakh, but the total cost is over Rs 20 lakh.

"More than the price, the big hurdle for India is late diagnosis of cancers. Treatment works best when the cancer is in early stages, so getting unexplained symptoms that last for more than two weeks checked for cancer becomes a must," said Dr Raychaudhuri.