What you need to know:
- Proton therapy is often the preferred option for treating solid tumours in children because protons can be controlled precisely, so there is less radiation to normal tissues; helping prevent serious complications and lessening the chances of secondary tumours.
- roton therapy can be effective in treating many types of tumours, including tumours of the brain, head and neck, central nervous system, lung, prostate, and gastrointestinal system.
Joyce Karinge, a 43-year-old mother of one, has beaten stage-four lung cancer and is now in remission.
Ms Karinge, a project manager at a software company in Nairobi, discloses to Healthy Nation that her journey to recovery is due to a new form of cancer treatment known as proton therapy, which she received at Apollo Proton Cancer Centre (APCC) in Chennai, India.
According to Dr Srinivas Chilukuri, a senior radiation oncologist at APCC, proton therapy is a radiation therapy that uses tiny particles called protons as excellent cancer cell killers.
“Protons deliver their energy but do not damage healthy tissue in comparison to photon therapy and this means a higher dose of radiation can be targeted at the tumour without affecting many normal healthy cells.
“Proton therapy can be effective in treating many types of tumours, including tumours of the brain, head and neck, central nervous system, lung, prostate, and gastrointestinal system,” he explains.
The consultant highlights that proton therapy is often the preferred option for treating solid tumours in children because protons can be controlled precisely, so there is less radiation to normal tissues; helping prevent serious complications and lessening the chances of secondary tumours.
Ms Karinge opens up: “I discovered I was not well 22 months ago after one of my eyes went blurry. The optician I visited a run a series of tests and recommended I consult a general physician; having suspected that the problem could not just be the eye.
“I went to hospital and after a myriad of tests, I was told I had lung cancer,” she adds, disclosing that by then the cancer had spread to her liver.
“The experts at the facility decided to send my biopsy to India — they were looking for the molecular formation to decide the best mode of treatment.”
In February last year, she stopped chemotherapy. “I was put on targeted therapy, which involves taking oral pills.”
She would take the pills until January this year. “I took them until I went for a review — I do reviews every six months through a positron emission tomography scan or magnetic resonance imaging.”
In January this year as she was doing her reviews, experts found two tumours in her brain and immediately recommended radiotherapy.
“They told me that the brain is very sensitive and that it immediately blocks medication just as it tries to block infections from getting to it. The radiotherapy available in the country is whole brain radiotherapy, which they told me means that you can lose your memory and there are more side effects.”
The experts recommended South Africa, Europe or India, which, they said have advanced technology that targets tumours in specific parts of the brain without necessarily harming the good cells.
According to researchers, stereotactic radiotherapy gives radiotherapy from many different angles around the body. “The beams meet at the tumour, this means the tumour receives a high dose of radiation and the tissues around it receive a much lower dose, thus lowering the risk of side effects,” notes Dr Chilukuri.
This is how Ms Karinge ended up at APCC in India.
“Travelling out was very seamless. I think we need to borrow a leaf from their efficiency because my papers were processed, accommodation booked, treatment plan developed in no time and I found a driver at the airport waiting to pick me up by the time I landed in India,” she highlights and observes that in the Asian country patients don’t look for doctors, doctors look for them.
“I think the quality of care and the fact that doctors and nurses handle you with a human touch and would never shout at or frustrate you made me feel very comfortable.”
Her treatment, which was fully paid for by the National Hospital Insurance Fund, was smooth and cost Sh560,000 for 10 sessions.
“When I left Kenya, I had been told that there were two tumours in my brain, but a week later, the Indian doctors, using proton therapy technology found that I had 30 tumours. The conclusion was that their technology was able to pick even the smallest tumours that the technology in Kenya couldn’t pick.
“It’s not that they had multiplied, they had just been there all along,” Ms Karinge discloses, observing that the only side effect she experienced was nausea, which went away after two days.
APCC explains that proton therapy has multiple advantages that target tumours and cancer cells with precision and minimal exit dose, hence reducing overall toxicity.
“It also reduces the probability and/or severity of short- and long-term side effects on surrounding healthy tissues and organs. It is favourable in treating recurrent tumours, even in patients who have already received radiation,” highlights Dr Chilukuri.
He further discloses that proton therapy has emerged as an excellent treatment modality for a number of cancers.
Some of the most common cases being treated at APCC are paediatric cancers, brain tumours, head-neck cancers, and advanced tumours of prostate, bone and soft tissue, including in challenging locations adjacent to the skull base and spinal cord.
“Proton therapy in select patients can improve survivorship and, in most others, reduces the immediate and long-term side effects of treatment leading to not just improvement in survival but also survivorship.
“At APCC, we have the latest technology, which enables us to deliver highly focused protons, spot-by-spot and layer-by-layer encompassing the entire tumour with reduced or even no dose to the adjacent healthy tissues,” notes Dr Chilukuri.
For Ms Karinge, she is grateful for the support she received during her hour of need. “My family has been very supportive throughout by battle with stage four cancer and now I am in remission. My employer has also been understanding, I am back to work.”
She urges anyone battling cancer to stay positive.