Cancer can be treated with nuclear medicine

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Staff at the Cancer Diseases Hospital in Lusaka prepare a radiotherapy machine for a patient.

In mid-February the University Teaching Hospital (UTH) in Lusaka conducted the first-ever treatment of thyroid cancer – normally treated through surgery followed by radioactive iodine therapy. Zambia did not have the expertise to carry out the treatment until December 2017.

Indeed, nuclear medicine plays quite an important role in increasing the wellbeing of people by providing accurate diagnostics and consequently accurate treatment of serious diseases.

The sphere of application of nuclear innovations in medicine is impressive. For instance, nuclear medicine can be used to examine diverse conditions as blood flow to the brain, functioning of the liver, lungs, heart or kidneys, to assess bone growth, and to confirm results obtained from other diagnostic procedures.

Radiotherapy and special radiopharmaceuticals are key components of nuclear medicine, however their use requires specialized personnel training and equipment handling.

Global practice shows the critical role of general nuclear medicine in the care of women with breast cancer including early detection and treatment.

Zambia has the potential to increase the use of radiotherapy technology to fight against cancer by developing nuclear science and technology.

Radiotherapy is a highly effective method of cancer treatment. It is generally utilized to control the development of cancer cells or eliminate them. Radiation therapy may be curative in many types of cancer especially if they are localized in one area of the body.

Dr Lewis Banda, the Cancer Diseases Hospital’s Senior Medical Superintendent, notes that without nuclear technologies it would have been very difficult to address serious diseases and take care of so many patients. Nuclear science plays an important role in establishing diagnosis of diseases and sterilizing medical equipment. Apart from medical use, nuclear technologies can make food safe and available for many people.

The first and only cancer treatment center offering radiation therapy in Zambia, the Cancer Diseases Hospital, has scored numerous successes in the use of nuclear technology to diagnose and treat cancer, according to the hospital’s Chief Medical Physicist, Mulape Kanduza.

The hospital uses radiation therapy and Radiopharmaceuticals (medicinal radiocompounds) as vital components of cancer control. It uses procedures such as X-rays, CT scans and mammograms for the early detection and diagnosis of cancer as well as radiotherapy and chemotherapy for the treatment. Radiotherapy can treat and manage the disease and provide substantial pain relief for patients when cure is not possible.

“Radiation therapy, which is based on nuclear science, has been proven over the last 100 years to provide effective diagnosis and treatment for cancer. There’s a lot of fear regarding the use of radioactive substances as people believe that it is dangerous. But I’d like to rest people’s anxieties by saying that if somebody has been trained on how to use radioactive substances on a patient or in industry, it is safely done,” said Kanduza.

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