Beating Cancer in Developing Countries
Escalating cancer rates and a growing need for qualified staff and radiotherapy equipment are serious constraints to treating cancer in both industrial and developing countries. In the developing world, a dramatic rise in cancer is stretching already limited resources and equipment. Currently about 5000 machines are needed to help patients in these countries fight cancer. And experts predict a long-term cancer crisis in the near future, with an estimated 5 million new patients requiring radiation therapy per year. The rise in detected cancers is partly attributed to increasing life expectancy rates.
Meeting the challenge is not as simple as providing machines. There has to be sufficient trained and knowledgeable staff with expertise in medical dosimetry - to allow them to estimate a safe and effective dose of radiation. In addition, appropriate facilities and infrastructure for waste management and monitoring, and quality and regulatory control are needed.
"The provision of equipment and training of personnel to safely treat patients and maintain radiotherapy equipment in the developing world is of increasing importance to the IAEA," Mr. Bhadrasain Vikram, from the IAEA´s Division of Human Health, said. The IAEA has helped Mongolia, Ethiopia, Namibia, and Ghana establish radiotherapy facilities. It also provides ongoing support to some 80 developing Member States to help them upgrade their radiotherapy facilities and provide training to staff.
Issues facing countries were examined in late November 2002 at the International Symposium on Standards and Code of Practice in Medical Radiation Dosimetry, at the IAEA in Vienna. Dosimetry -- the process of measuring a dose of radiation -- is an integral part of any medical treatment that uses ionizing radiation. It helps ensure that patients get the right dose during treatment. The Symposium was organized to share information, technical developments and best practices in the field. More than 250 participants from 62 countries and 9 organizations attended.
The meeting covered such technical areas as codes of practice, quality audits, and new methods improving radiation dose estimates. With computerization, improved techniques are today widely used to estimate patient doses and plan treatments in a wide range of medical therapies, such as teletherapy (where a focused beam of radiation is used in short bursts to kill tumours); brachytherapy (where a small radioactive source is implanted in a cancer patient); diagnostic radiography (such a computerized tomography (CT) scans); and nuclear medicine (where patients ingest a radioactive drug).
In addition to promoting exchange of information through such international gatherings, the Agency has developed standards and codes of practice for medical uses of radiation and is collaborating with the World Health Organization to support a network of standard dosimetry laboratories that can assist hospitals in their quality assurance programmes.