India’s first Proton Therapy Conference highlights new cancer care experience

January 14, 2019 0 By FM

Global oncology specialists shared their insights at the country’s first proton therapy conference organised jointly by Apollo Hospitals and Particle Therapy Cooperative Group (PTCOG) in Chennai.

Proton therapy, one of the most advanced and targeted radiation cancer treatments with a superior dose distribution and minimal side effects, is claimed to be helpful in treating cancer more effectively and efficiently.

The Chennai conference on proton therapy was organised for oncologists from South East Asian countries. The region’s first proton beam therapy centre will soon be commissioned by Apollo Hospitals in the city.

Over 400 delegates from across India and Asia gathered at this first international proton therapy conference, which was iinaugurated by Dr. Motosoahae Thomas Thabane, Prime Minister of Lesotho. The conference was divided into sessions around key topics such as the basic science behind proton beam delivery and on how to assemble the infrastructure.

Proton therapy centres are heavily dependent on the support of engineers and scientists to assemble the infrastructure. The machinery involved is far more complicated compared to standard radiation equipment and requires a greater level of customisation.

Standard radiation therapy comprises of X-ray beams that deposit their energy along the path of the beam, to the tumour and beyond, resulting in radiation being delivered not only to the tumour but also to the healthy tissues around the tumour. This causes damage to normal tissue or organs near the tumour. With proton therapy, it is possible to control the location of the release of the energy and precisely target the tumour, causing the most damage to the targeted tumour cells, while sparing healthy tissues and organs.

A proton beam is just millimetres wide and facilitates effective treatment of complex tumours in the eye, the brain, the prostate, as well as cancers in children, with the advantage that healthy tissue and critical organs are not harmed. It gives the patient a better quality of life during and after treatment.

“First of all, in proton beam therapy, no two machines are alike and the system at every centre needs heavy customisation, which is critical for the efficient delivery of the therapy,” said Dr. Ramesh Rengan, professor, Department of Radiation Oncology, University of Washington School of Medicine.

“More importantly, there was also a substantial amount of thought that was put into the aspect of the kind of cancer patients present in this part of the world, which is significantly different from those in other regions,” Dr Rengan added.

The two-day-long interactive programme saw specialists from Austria, Denmark, India, Sweden, Switzerland and the US sharing their knowledge on various aspects of proton therapy technology and treatment, and an overview of its application in clinical practice.

Apollo’s proton therapy centre — Apollo Proton Cancer Centre (APCC) — which will have a pencil beam scanning facility — one of the most advanced proton therapy technologies — is largely in line with standards that are in practice globally. Technical sessions on aspects of testing and treatment were at par with the latest technology trends in this area.

“The Proton Therapy Educational Programme will help physicians and oncologists understand the potential of this new technology to treat cancer,” said Dr Preetha Reddy, Vice Chairperson, Apollo Hospitals.

“With the cancer burden in India increasing day by day, we are glad to be at the forefront in taking up the challenge of providing the best treatment option available in the world,” she added. “It will be the first in South East Asia and a major milestone in our concerted focus to battle and conquer cancer. Dr Rakesh Jalali, Medical Director at Apollo Proton Cancer Centre, said proton therapy has “phenomenally transformed” cancer therapy.

“It helps in treating tumours located in especially difficult areas such as in the head, the neck, the pancreas and the prostate. It is very effective to control and manage cancer while reducing damage to vital organs and healthy tissues due to the possibility of giving higher doses of radiation,” he added.  Though there are issues like the high cost of therapy and uncertainties on quantifying the benefits of proton therapy, experts are of the view that patients experience fewer side effects in general and, in certain cases, have a lower chance of recurrence due to the high dose delivered to the tumour.

On issues such as the risk-benefit ratio and the type of patients who stand to benefit the most from the treatment, Dr Rengan says: “Typically, the best candidates for proton therapy are children and adults with skull-based tumours, tumours in and around the spine, orbital and eye tumours.”
Patients with cancers of the head and neck, oesophagus, pancreas and hepatobiliary system, sarcomas and certain breast cancer too have benefited from the therapy, he said.