Six months after launch, three paediatric oncology patients to get treatment at Tata Memorial Centre, Kharghar
India's first public sector proton therapy unit at Tata Memorial Centre's Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) will treat its first three paediatric oncology patients this week. The unit uses positively charged particles to bombard cancer cells, sparing normal tissues and reducing side effects. The treatment is free for 60% of patients, with the remaining patients receiving a subsidised rate. Tata Memorial Centre's paediatric department has seen a rise in cases and believes proton therapy will be effective for childhood cancers.
Mumbai: Six months after its launch, the country’s first public sector proton therapy unit at Tata Memorial Centre’s Advanced Centre for Treatment, Research and Education in Cancer (ACTREC) at Kharghar is all set to treat the first three paediatric oncology patients this week. Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy in which protons (positively charged particles) are used to bombard cancer cells instead of the standard radiation using x-rays (photons).
Dr Siddhartha Laskar, professor of radiation oncology, TMC who is overseeing the proton therapy, said, “We have lined up two paediatric cancer patients out of which, we will start the treatment for the first this week and the second next week. Both are in the age group of four to six years and have rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer that grows on cells in soft tissue. While one has it near the eye, the other has it near the rectum.”
Laskar said both children have cancer in critical areas as there are critical organs involved. The third was diagnosed with a brain tumour. “While choosing paediatric patients for proton therapy, we have gone for patients who will not require to be immobilised with anaesthesia. In the coming days, complex paediatric cases will also undergo proton therapy,” he said.
Since the start of the unit, 20 adult cancer patients have completed their treatment. Dr Laskar said the side effects of many who came for the first follow-up were relatively low.
“The main benefit of proton therapy is to spare normal tissues and avoid side-effects. In the first follow-up, we found that they are alright from the disease point of view and the biggest thing is that the side effects are significantly low,” said Dr Laskar.
At present, the unit has one treatment room, and the other is awaiting approval from the regulatory authority to start clinical work. “We will add a third treatment room. Once all the three rooms are operational, the number of cancer patients undergoing proton therapy will also increase,” said Dr Laskar.
TMH’s proton therapy is given free of charge to 60% of the cancer patients while the remaining get it at a subsidised rate. The only other hospital in the country to have proton therapy is Apollo Hospital, Chennai, which started in 2017.
The Tata Memorial Centre’s paediatric department, which has been seeing a rising number of paediatric cancer cases, said proton therapy would be an effective treatment for many childhood cancers, including brain tumours, and cancers that grow in connective tissue.
Five-year data from Tata Hospital’s paediatric department shows a rise in paediatric cases. While in 2019, the department registered 1994 new paediatric cases below the age of 18, in 2023, the country’s premier cancer care institute saw 2,630 cases. Doctors have attributed the rise in numbers to better awareness and screening. The department has also been working to bring down the abandonment of treatment among its patients. The abandonment of treatment dropped to a mere 2% in 2021 from 25% in 2008.