The cutting edge Leksell Gamma Knife Icon radiosurgery technology was earlier this month officially launched at a function held at Netcare Milpark Hospital, where the country’s first Gamma Knife South Africa treatment centre has been established.
Delivering the keynote address at the event, the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaala, said that the installation of the Gamma Knife Icon would greatly assist the work that is being done by the Department of Health in raising awareness about cancer, its prevention and the treatment options available to individuals whose lives are being impacted by cancer.
Dr Maurizio Zorio, a neurosurgeon who practises at the hospital and who spoke at the event, says that to date more than a million patients have already undergone Gamma Knife Icon treatment throughout the world, a number to which South Africa is now actively contributing to.
The technology is used in the treatment of malignant as well as benign brain, head and neck tumours. In addition, the Gamma Knife Icon is also used for the treatment of acoustic neuromas or growths on the nerves near the inner ear controlling hearing and balance, vascular malformations such as arteriovenous malformations [AVMs], and functional disorders including trigeminal neuralgia, a chronic condition that causes severe facial pain, and unresponsive medication tremor in certain Parkinson’s patients.
“The introduction of this advanced technology, which is internationally regarded as the gold standard in cranial radiosurgery, and the establishment of the Gamma Knife SA centre, have been firsts for the Southern African sub-continent.
“Since being introduced in April 2017, we’ve seen over the initial six-month period that there is great demand for this technology, and we are receiving an increasing number of enquiries from both doctors and patients around the country.”
“It is really exciting to consider the future potential of the Gamma Knife Icon locally, which has already been used to treat more than a million patients worldwide. The development of this centre in Johannesburg brings South Africa firmly in line with global standards,” Dr Richard Friedland, chief executive officer of the Netcare Group, said at the official opening.
“Medical and technological advances in cancer treatment, such as those offered by the Leksell Gamma Knife Icon, bring hope for many patients suffering from debilitating cranial conditions,” noted Dr Friedland.
Introduced to the country by Gamma Knife South Africa, in partnership with Netcare and Eurolab, the Icon is considered to be the most precise radiosurgery device in the world. The technology delivers powerful doses of Gamma radiation from a cobalt source to the targeted area, with an unparalleled degree of precision.
“The Gamma Knife is the only device of its type with micro-surgery capabilities, allowing for the treatment of virtually any target in the brain with ultra-high precision. Think of a magnifying glass that harnesses the rays of the sun and focuses it on a pinpoint to create a burn at that precise target area, and you will gain some idea of how we are able to use this technology to precisely focus the radiation dose to the targeted tissue,” explained Dr Zorio.
One of the characteristics that sets the Gamma Knife Icon apart from other stereotactic radiosurgery devices is that its ability to target diseased tissue more precisely means that surrounding healthy nerves and tissues are better preserved, which is of key importance when treating tumours in the brain which are located close to critical brain structures. “The technology greatly reduces many of the risks associated with other forms of cranial radiotherapy, as it enables us to consistently limit radiation exposure to healthy tissue.”
Dr Zorio explained that the effect of the treatment takes some time to demonstrate its full benefit for the patient. “We do not usually expect it to completely destroy the tumours, but our aim is to restrict their growth and assist the patient to become free of the often debilitating symptoms associated with them for years to come. In other words, the aim of the treatment is to give patients their quality of life back.”
According Noeleen Phillipson, director of Netcare Oncology, Gamma Knife treatment is very much “a team effort, which is planned and executed by a highly specialised multidisciplinary team, including a neurosurgeon, a radiation oncologist, a radiologist, a medical physicist and a radiotherapist.
South African patients who could benefit from this highly advanced treatment now no longer have to pay an enormous amount of money and travel abroad to access such cutting-edge cranial radiosurgery, as would have been the case for recent Gamma Knife SA patient, 27-year-old Prenolan Pillay.
“On my doctor’s recommendation I had Gamma Knife treatment, as it was impossible for my neurosurgeon to completely remove the tumour in my brain through traditional surgical means, due to its position within my brain,” he relates.
“After my initial surgery, I could only go back to work after a few months as I needed rehabilitation, whereas I went back to work the day after my Gamma Knife treatment. I have no more symptoms, am back at work and gym, and I feel healthier than ever. I see it as a second chance at life and I am now living the full-life that any normal young adult should be living,” says Pillay.
Lynne du Toit, spokesperson for the local oncology company Eurolab, says that introducing the Gamma Knife Icon to South African’s makes cancer treatment more affordable, less surgically invasive and more accessible to patients who can benefit from this remarkable technology.
“This cutting-edge radiosurgery technology has already started changing the lives of South Africans living with cancer – and it is these patients that are the foundation of our purpose at Eurolab,” says du Toit. “Eurolab offers an uncompromising commitment to our whole-of-cancer approach, including investing in the Gamma Knife that we are celebrating today. Our whole-of-cancer approach focuses on the patient, their health, and relieving their financial stress during and after their life-threatening illness.”
The Icon is the sixth generation of the Leksell Gamma Knife system, and introduces a number of new innovations, including the novel integrated stereotactic cone-beam CT (CBCT) imaging system, high definition motion management and online adaptive treatment planning software. Both frame-based and frameless patient immobilisation alternatives can be used.
Gamma Knife Icon radiosurgery offers a number of advantages over traditional forms of surgery for selected patients and conditions.
“Frequently, a single treatment lasting up to 90 minutes can be as effective as open brain surgery, yet it incurs far fewer risks. It does not require general anaesthetic and does not take hours to perform. Multiple treatment sessions over time can also be used to treat larger tumour volumes, as well as to target tumours situated close to critical brain structures. In addition, Gamma Knife Icon treatment does not require general anaesthetic, hospitalisation and the comparatively lengthy recovery period associated with traditional cranial surgeries,” says radiation oncologist, Dr Samuel Fourie.
Thirty-five-year-old Patrick Dhlamini, who had undergone two surgeries since 2011 and been receiving radiotherapy for a tumour growing in his sinus area, cannot believe the reduced time and increase in benefits of the Gamma Knife treatment compared to the radiotherapy he previously received.
“Previously I had thirty sessions of radiotherapy, whereas I only needed to go for five Gamma Knife sessions. The whole procedure is so comfortable that while you are in the machine you can actually meditate or go to sleep; it is not scary at all. “When you move the machine automatically stops and when you settle down it continues once more. Then, when treatment is complete, there is no pain or scars,” Dhlamini explains.
Compiled by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Milpark Hospital and Gamma Knife South Africa
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney, Meggan Saville or Pieter Rossouw
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