BENGALURU: Almost 60 per cent of cancer patients require radiotherapy at some point of their treatment. This is an expensive affair in private hospitals and the number of radiation oncology centres that the state has are few and far in between.
Currently, there are radiation centres in Hubballi, Kalaburagi, Mandya, Mysuru, Hassan and Bengaluru. The Comptroller and Auditor General, in its report this year, has observed that though the Indian Public Health Standards’ guidelines for district hospitals makes radiotherapy a desirable service in all district hospitals, only two government hospitals in Bengaluru have it.
Though the waiting time for cancer treatment is around three to four weeks in Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, the institute charges `15,000 for Cobalt-60 treatment, an old teletherapy machine. The radiotherapy department at Victoria Hospital charges `3,000 for the same and there is no waiting time.
Treatment at Victoria Hospital is cheaper as it is attached to Bangalore Medical college, where all treatments are subsidised. It also does not have a waiting period as compared to Kidwai. People prefer to go to the latter as it is a hospital dedicated for cancer treatment.
Dr Vishal Rao, head and neck cancer surgeon at Healthcare Global in the city, said, “World over, cancer centres are no longer using Cobalt-60 teletherapy machines as they date back to the 60s and are riddled with high complications and side affects. No major private hospital uses Cobalt-60. But the government set-ups have continued because of the high cost of linear accelerators and something is better than no treatment.”
Kidwai currently has three Cobalt-60 machines and three linear accelerators (LINAC) and is procuring four more linear accelerators.
A linear accelerator is a device most commonly used for external beam radiation treatments for patients with cancer. It delivers high-energy x-rays to the region of the patient’s tumour.
Radiology oncologists feel that there need to be more radiation oncology centres in the state.
However, Dr K B Linge Gowda, director of Kidwai Memorial Institute of Oncology, said, “One needs clearance from the Atomic Energy Research Board (AERB) for any radiology equipment. The cost of setting up a centre is extremely high. A linear accelerator costs `12 crore to `15 crore. There are very few trained specialists in the state. A radiotherapy department needs one exclusive physician and two technicians. They cannot be visiting doctors.”
According to the AERB guidelines the building that houses a LINAC or Cobalt-60 should have walls that are 1.5 metres thick, said Gowda. “The building itself will cost `2 crore. It is called a bunker. It will take six to eight months to construct. Once our state cancer project is implemented we will have four LINACs,” he said.
Dr Amrut S Kadam, assistant professor, Department of Radiotherapy, Victoria Hospital, said, “There are 23 private radiation oncology centres in the state. But the capital cost is high. Brachytherapy, used to treat prostrate cancer, will be made available at the hospital soon.”
Once the AERB gives the go ahead for this facility, an additional treatment option will be available at the state-run hospital, but more are desirable.