One of the most immediate and remarkable benefits to come from the joint partnership between NROC and UPMC will be access for all of Kazakhstan to the most advanced radiation therapy available anywhere in the world.
“The NROC is going to be the epicenter for an extremely innovative, integrated—and unrivaled—national cancer initiative,” predicts Dr. Dwight Heron, MD, Radiation Oncologist and Vice Chairman of Radiation Services at UPMC.
Two serious problems exist right now in Kazakhstan, according to Dr. Heron. Patients aren’t being diagnosed early enough and treatment can be 1,000 miles away.
“Our goal is to detect cancer at an earlier stage when it’s easier to treat and the patient has a greater chance of being cured,” Dr. Heron explains. “We then want to offer patients the safest, most effective treatment available, and we want to offer that treatment on a more convenient outpatient basis, close to home.”
Most common cancer types can be treated with radiation therapy in some way, notes Dr. Heron. Some types may even be cured with radiation therapy if the cancer is localized to one area of the body. It also is common to combine radiation therapy with surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, immunotherapy or some combination of therapies. The precise treatment depends on the tumor type, location, and stage, as well as the general health of the patient.
“With the launch of the breast checkup program in Astana, we anticipate that we’ll see a good number of breast cancer cases, and have the opportunity to treat patients successfully in early stages of the disease,” Dr. Heron notes.
One type of radiation treatment that will be offered for the first time in Kazakhstan is called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). IMRT precisely targets radiation to the shape and thickness of a tumor to treat cancer cells while minimizing the dose of radiation received by healthy tissues that surround the tumor. This results in fewer adverse side effects for patients undergoing treatment. It may also be used as palliative treatment (where cure is not possible and the aim is for local disease control or symptomatic relief).
In addition to IMRT, many other advanced treatment options will be offered at NROC, including:
“Although we are bringing advanced technologies that can change cancer care throughout Kazakhstan, we first have to overcome some of the fear and ignorance that surrounds cancer,” cautions Dr. Heron. “No one wants to think or talk about cancer but we must. Education is a critical part of our mission. Knowledge--together with the appropriate preventative care and proactive treatment that follows—will save lives.”