New radiation unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital touching lives in a meaningful way

Cutting edge technology meets holistic, heartfelt care in dedicated cancer care centre

Wednesday, June 29 2022

Touching the lives of more than 480 patients since it began offering radiotherapy services to cancer patients just over a year ago, the radiation unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital has already made meaningful strides in cancer care. This is significantly enhancing patient outcomes as part of the comprehensive range of treatments provided by the hospital’s cancer care centre.

Speaking at the official launch of the unit, which took place last week following a postponement due to COVID-19, Dr Cindy Aitton, Head: Netcare Cancer Care Division noted that the unit is answering the distinct need for a specialised service. The experienced multidisciplinary team uses state of the art technology to provide customised treatment and holistic, supportive care centred around each patient’s specific type and stage of cancer and their unique circumstances and needs.

Pic: From left to right: Emma Hill and Theo Nair, both senior radiotherapists; Dr Cindy Aitton, head of Netcare Cancer Care Division; Cindy van der Merwe, regional radiotherapy manager; Sharmiela Hufkie and Veneshree Naidoo, both senior radiotherapists; Theresa Roux, oncology business manager; and Elaine Botha, medical physicist; at the new Elekta Versa HD linear accelerator.
Pic: Senior radiotherapists Veneshree Naidoo, left, and Emma Hill, right, demonstrate how the Elekta Versa HD linear accelerator is used. Together with an Agility™ 160 multileaf collimator, this equipment enables more accurate tumour targeting and improved healthy tissue preservation.


“Now that we are finally able to officially launch this important facility, it is most encouraging to look back on its first year of operation and to see just what a difference it makes to have this advanced treatment available as part of our comprehensive cancer care service in the ecosystem of services offered here at Netcare Milpark Hospital.

“Not only does the radiation unit’s cutting edge equipment ensure world class treatment capabilities, the people we have caring for our patients are truly exceptional human beings and healthcare professionals – loved by our patients and doctors alike. With a staff contingent of hand picked individuals whose calling it is to care for others, working alongside no fewer than five radiation oncologists practising here, our radiotherapy patients are provided with a level of expertise and specialised attention that can make a meaningful difference to their treatment outcomes,” she says.

The radiation equipment that was newly installed last year includes a state of the art Elekta Versa HD linear accelerator which together with an Agility™ 160 multileaf collimator enables more accurate tumour targeting and improved healthy tissue preservation. This can also provide rapid delivery of more advanced therapies within standard treatment times when combined with a high dose flattening filter free (FFF) mode.

This equipment significantly complements the already available Leksell Gamma Knife Icon® for intracranial radiosurgery, the Zeiss Intrabeam® intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) and chemotherapy services. Netcare Milpark Hospital is also home to a number of surgical oncological treatments and the renowned Netcare Milpark Breast Care Centre of Excellence, which is accredited by the American College of Surgeons’ National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers (NAPBC).

In addition to the exceptional radiation unit, the hospital’s greater cancer care centre comprises a holistic offering from diagnosis to completion of care, including screening, pathology, mammography, diagnostic radiology, chemotherapy, surgery, a dedicated cancer care ward and a pharmacy – all under one roof. The radiation unit itself offers a variety of radiotherapy modalities, so that the most suitable treatment option for each patient’s type and stage of cancer can be selected.

“We have a wealth of skilled healthcare professionals in our multidisciplinary team at Netcare Milpark Hospital’s dedicated cancer care centre, and specialists are attracted by our cutting edge equipment as well as the level of expertise among colleagues on the team,” says Dr Aitton. “These include oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, radiotherapists, medical physicists, plastic and reconstructive surgeons for breast reconstruction, psychologists, social workers, dieticians, and oncology nurse navigators. This enables treatments to be fully customisable to different types of cancer.”

Dr Aitton adds that the centre’s oncology nurse navigators play a particularly important role. “Receiving a cancer diagnosis is a life altering experience. These highly trained nursing specialists are dedicated to guiding and supporting patients from diagnosis through treatment to recovery. This ensures a smooth transition from one phase of treatment to the next, with the navigator acting as a point of communication between the patient and the various medical professionals who are involved in their treatment. This prevents the patient from expending unnecessary energy that could be better focused on getting well again.”

According to Dr Aitton, since opening its doors to cancer patients, the new radiation unit at Netcare Milpark Hospital has welcomed individuals at all stages of the cancer journey, each on their own unique journey in fighting the disease.

“Many of our patients enjoy taking part in the Look Good Feel Better workshops, which are specifically geared towards addressing the side effects of cancer treatments and the impact these can have on body image.

“Reading some of the patient comments has been nothing short of heart warming. Some have related how devastating a cancer diagnosis is, how gruelling the treatment can be and how receiving holistic care from a dedicated team in a pleasant setting has softened their overall experience.

“The words ‘smile’, ‘light’, ‘friendly’ and ‘kindness’ so often come up in thank you letters to the staff, which we believe speaks to the importance of real human connection and compassion for cancer patients. This is the calling that every team member here answers to.

“One patient remarked that our team is the absolute best, but that she really hopes she never has to see any of us again. This is our most sincere wish as well. We hope to be able to provide not only the medical treatment required for recovery but also the emotional support needed to get through one of the most difficult experiences a human being can go through, so that they never have to walk that road again.

“Patients who have been affected by cancer and who are fighting this disease are not only faced with the challenges of radiation, chemotherapy or surgical treatments, or a combination of these. Battling cancer takes courage, compassion, hope and support. For us it is a privilege to provide our patients with treatment and to support them on their journey – and for this we thank them.

“Our vision at Netcare Cancer Care is to offer holistic care where we place each person and their unique circumstances and needs at the heart of what we do at each of our cancer care centres in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Pietermaritzburg and Cape Town. This also means that we encourage them to actively participate in decisions about their treatment,” she says.

“It is a sobering fact that the number of cancer diagnoses is on the rise, both in South Africa and globally. Equipping medical specialists with cutting edge technology, supported by attentive healthcare professionals in a dedicated cancer care centre offering a comprehensive range of treatments and support services is one of the surest ways we can achieve better outcomes for people with cancer. This is one of our greatest aims at Netcare Cancer Care, and we look forward to seeing the continued positive impact this new unit will have on the lives of those in our care,” concludes Dr Aitton.

More about the radiotherapy available at Netcare Milpark Hospital

External beam radiation therapy
Radiotherapy entails the treatment of lesions with ionising radiation. In the case of external beam radiotherapy, high energy x-rays or electron beams generated by a linear accelerator are targeted at the tumour site where they deposit their energy within the body to destroy cancer or abnormal cells. This type of therapy also allows for a technique where electrons are used for the treatment of superficial lesions, such as those on the skin.

Intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT)
IMRT is an advanced form of high accuracy radiotherapy that delivers a high dose of radiation to a tumour. Multiple beams are shaped to conform to the lesion’s outline. Each beam has a number of sub-beams or segments, and the intensity of each segment varies. In effect, IMRT allows control over both the shape of the radiation field as well as the dose that gets delivered to each ‘sub-area’ of the field. This results in the delivery of the prescribed dose to an irregular tumour, at the same time sparing the normal structures and tissue around the tumour.

Image guided radiation therapy (IGRT)
IGRT enables the creation of a three-dimensional image of the actual patient and the position of the lesion on a daily basis. This increases the accuracy of the treatment set-up and delivery. IGRT can also be used to adapt and modify the treatment plan to allow for anatomical changes during the course of radiotherapy. The increased precision in adapting to anatomical changes improves tumour control and reduces treatment side effects.

Gated radiotherapy
Gated therapy is used to treat tumours in the regions of lungs, liver and stomach, where there is a possibility of organ movement during breathing. The treatment beam is then coordinated with the patient’s breathing rhythm. The CT images are acquired at a particular breathing phase and the linear accelerator is gated to irradiate the tumour during that phase. In effect, gating means that the equipment is used to restrict the radiation beam to only be on during a specific part of the breathing cycle. This allows for deep inspiration breath holding technique with the use of ABC from Elekta.

Stereotactic irradiation
Stereotactic irradiation is the external beam radiation technique which currently offers the highest level of precision in radiotherapy. High dose radiation can be delivered to small lesions in the brain (intracranial) or the rest of the body (extracranial), with a position accuracy of 1mm. Evidence based research is conducted at the oncology centres where this treatment option is offered, and outcomes are measured for up to five years.

The unit offers:

  • Stereotactic radiosurgery treatment (SRS) for head and neck areas.
  • Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) for the lungs.
  • Stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT) for the rest of the body.

Rapid arc – Volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT)
With rapid arc the treatment is delivered with a single 360 degree rotation around the patient. This significantly shortens the treatment time, compared to normal treatment time, which improves patient comfort as the time they spend on the treatment couch is much shorter. During a 360° rotation a precise sculpted 3-D distribution is delivered. This is made possible by a treatment planning algorithm that simultaneously changes three parameters during treatment, namely the rotation speed of the gantry, the shape of the treatment aperture by using a multi-leave collimator, and the dose delivery.

Gamma Knife Icon radiosurgery
The Gamma Knife Icon is the sixth generation of the Leksell Gamma Knife system. The non-invasive technology is used in the treatment of selected malignant and benign brain, head and neck tumours, vascular malformations in the brain as well as functional disorders in the brain. Gamma Knife Icon is the most precise radiosurgery device on the market internationally, enabling the treatment of virtually any target in the brain with ultra-high precision. The technology uses Gamma rays from a cobalt source to deliver powerful doses of precision-targeted radiation that act as a surgeon’s ‘scalpel’. Treatment is done on an outpatient basis, so no hospital stay is required and there is no post-operative recovery. This greatly reduces the risks associated with traditional cranial surgery.

Medical physicists
Radiation oncology medical physicists (ROMPs) are experts in the physics of radiation, especially the interaction of radiation with the human body when used to identify the location of, and treat, cancer.

Additional techniques offered

  • Three dimensional conventional treatment where radiation beams are shaped to match the tumour shape.
  • Cone beam computerised tomography (CBCT), used for imaging before treatment to assist with treatment planning.
  • KV and MV imaging, used for imaging before treatment to assist with treatment planning.



Notes to editor

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For more information on this media release, contact MNA at the contact details listed below.


Issued by: MNA on behalf of Netcare Milpark Hospital
Contact: Martina Nicholson, Meggan Saville, Estene Lotriet-Vorster or Clemmy Forsthofer
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected], [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]