October 3, 2022
Dr. Adam McCleave discusses a more tolerable radiation treatment that offers better protection of surrounding organs.
Cervical cancer is still a leading cause of cancer-related death in South Africa, but the disease could be eradicated soon.
Dr. Adam McCleave, a Radiation Oncologist at Busamed Hillcrest Private Hospital says as technology improves and discourse deepens about cervical cancer, a “curative treatment for [it]” becomes increasingly within reach.
He says one of the core features of radiation oncology now includes volumetric modulated arc therapy (VMAT) which is a technology that delivers a radiation dose close to the tumour while minimising the dose that hits surrounding organs.
With cervical cancer, for instance, the cervix could be radiated, but so could the bladder and rectum. With VMAT, radiation is more targeted to specific areas.
“That’s certainly been a ‘game-changer’ in terms of side effects and the patient’s tolerability in getting through [treatment].”
Dr. McCleave says the VMAT technique allows specifically for radiation to be directed away from the bladder and rectum, which “certainly lessens the associated side effects of damage to those organs.”
Cervical cancer is directly linked to HPV, or the human papillomavirus. Typically, our immune system is able to overcome this viral infection that is caused through sexual contact. But, sometimes, HPV remains in the body and over time causes cells to mutate which is when cancer starts to form.
Dr. McCleave says this is why regular pap smears (about once every 3 years before the age of 30 and about once every five5 years thereafter) are important.
According to the CDC, about 10% of women with HPV infection on their cervix will develop long-lasting HPV infections that put them at risk for cervical cancer.
Dr. McCleave adds that with South Africa’s high HIV rates, cervical cancers are rampant in young adults. Treatment options are also complicated because the body is battling two life threatening viruses simultaneously.
“People who are HIV positive really should be having the most regular pap smears, so that any changes in the cells can be picked up earlier.”
Dr. McCleave adds that with the rollout of an HPV Vaccine in South Africa, young girls between the ages of 9 and 14 should be getting vaccinated.
“The vaccine program, thankfully, is very exciting. So, it should be a largely obsolete disease within the next few decades.”
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