SOUTH AFRICA— Icon Oncology, a cancer and oncology care management organisation in South Africa, has installed and commissioned a cutting-edge linear accelerator (Linac) from Elekta, in its Benoni Oncology Centre to serve the greater East Rand region.

Icon Oncology now boosts 32 Linac machines spread across its 28 radiotherapy units in different cities in South Africa.

At the recent commissioning, Icon noted its commitment to ensuring that it is striving to reach as many people as possible as the burden of cancer grows more prevalent.

The installation of Linac, equipped with stereotactic and volumetric modulated arc therapy capabilities that offer better treatment capacity and outcomes.

The official opening of the Linac was attended by oncologists, referring specialists and business leaders from Icon Oncology and Elekta.

This new technology has been touted to aid oncologists to treat a greater number of patients with advanced tools, further enhancing the standard of care offered at the Benoni Oncology Centre.

The new Linac installation and commissioning at the Benoni unit is part of an ongoing multi-million-dollar investment in new technology which ensures that Icon Oncology and its network of oncologists will remain at the forefront of cancer care.

Icon Oncology COO, Dr Ernst Marais, noted, “Year-on-year our data shows a significant rise in new cancer cases in the country. This challenge weighs heavily on our healthcare system.”

Dr Rudi Mare, a radiotherapy oncologist at ABJ Oncology who treats patients at the Benoni radiotherapy units divulged that one the most significant advantages of the Linac were its precision when treating difficult-to-reach tumours.

The new machine can administer a precise, tightly focused radiation dose tailored to the shape of the tumour while minimizing the impact on surrounding healthy tissue. Additionally, the machine’s fast treatment time means an improved experience for our patients,” noted Dr Mare.

Elekta claims that its Linac offers oncology departments the ideal combination for success by utilising Elekta’s best-in-class multileaf collimator and Agility, hospitals can treat highly conformal stereotactic tumour cases and complex anatomies with ease.

Manikandan Bala, Elekta’s Managing Director for India and South Africa, said, “With this addition to the South African market, a new chapter in advanced precision cancer treatments begins. The technology brings hope to patients and their families.”

He also proffered his appreciation at Elekta’s deepening ties with the Icon Group to further Elekta’s Access 2025 vision, “a world where everyone has access to the best cancer care”.

Cancer in South Africa

According to the 2018 Cancer Report by the Department of Statistics South Africa, 51.3% of cancer cases in the country were diagnosed in females, while males accounted for 48.6%.

The median age at cancer diagnosis was 59 years for females and 64 years for males. However, the median age at death from cancer was 62 for females and 64 for males, suggesting that males may be diagnosed at more advanced stages of the disease compared to females.

The International Journal of Cancer’s 2021 report reveals even more alarming statistics. In 2020, there were approximately 19.3 million new cancer cases and nearly 10 million cancer-related deaths worldwide.

The report predicts that the global cancer burden will reach 28.4 million cases by 2040, representing a 47% increase from 2020.

Interestingly, low-income and middle-income countries (LMICs) are expected to experience a larger burden, with a projected increase of 64% to 95%, compared to high-income countries with an increase of 32% to 56%. These differences can be attributed to demographic changes.

In the South African context, it becomes evident that many prevalent cancers in the country are preventable or potentially curable if detected early.

Unfortunately, mortality rates in rural areas are high due to late presentation of the disease, comorbidities such as HIV, and limited access to early detection and treatment services.

The reports highlight several reasons why cancer care services in South Africa are limited, ranging from poorly developed care pathways and inequitable distribution of resources to shortages of specialized healthcare professionals and outdated equipment that is not properly maintained.

Moreover, the lack of standardized budgets within and between provinces, coupled with under-resourced cancer registries and poor implementation of existing skills and programs, further hinder access to proper cancer care in the country.

The referral system is also inadequate due to a scarcity of skilled health professionals in cancer management at various levels, leading to the centralization of cancer services in urban areas and academic centers.

Consequently, non-academic centers, primary care facilities, and rural areas in South Africa often lack the necessary infrastructure, resources, and expertise to provide quality radiotherapy, chemotherapy, palliative care, and surgical cancer services.

“Giving more people access to life-saving cancer treatment is our purpose and why we continue to expand our fleet of Linacs countrywide. Our expansion plans for Gauteng include two more Linacs before the end of 2023,” concludes Dr Marais.

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