Bermuda Cancer and Health’s plan to bring radiation therapy to the island could help save 100 lives in Bermuda a year, according to clinical oncologist Chris Fosker.
Dr Fosker, who has been speaking at a series of public town hall meetings this week, said that around 300 new cases of cancer were reported in Bermuda every year and radiation therapy plays a role in the treatment of two-thirds of cancer patients.
However, he said that only around 100 cancer patients in Bermuda are referred to radiation therapy programmes overseas, leaving as many as 100 people without a potential cure for those who have the disease.
“I have certainly seen patients through the hospital who could be cured of their cancer if they could receive radiation therapy if they could afford it, but they cannot,” he said.
While financial concerns are a major factor preventing people from receiving treatment, he said others decline radiation due to the need to spend as much as eight weeks overseas.
By providing radiation locally, he said patients would be able to remain on the island and receive the same standard of treatment for less, meaning that more people would receive treatment.
He said most cases of cancer were treated with a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, with radiation therapy resulting in 40 per cent of successful treatment cases.
“Our hope is that most people would choose to have their treatment here, which means we would treat somewhere in the region of 150 and upwards every year,” he said. “The model of care means we should be able to treat 95 per cent of cases on the island.”
Radiation therapy uses a beam of photons to attack cancer cells in the body, potentially killing off cancer if it is limited to one area of the body, or preventing tumour recurrence after surgery.
Dr Fosker explained that one of the reasons radiation therapy had not been brought to the island previously was that equipment has been limited to treating only some forms of cancer, meaning that in order to treat a wider range several different machines would be required.
“Now, one can do it all,” he said.
“We hope we can treat everyone who wants radiation, but there will be a few examples where we will still recommend people receive treatment overseas, such as in paediatric cases.”
While he said the radiation therapy equipment was already on the island, he was unable to specify when local treatment would begin as they first must ensure that technical and safety standards are met, adding they are working closely with Dana-Farber/ Brigham and Women’s Cancer Centre to ensure the highest possible standard. Under the partnership, the Boston-based centre will help design and oversee treatments on the island.
In addition to explaining what radiation therapy is, Dr Fosker said one reason for the meetings was to help ease any public concerns, noting that the term “radiation” carries a negative public perception.
“The word strikes fear,” he said. “When you hear it in the news, the radiation they are referring to is usually not good, so we are talking about how safe what we are doing here is.”
The first meeting was on Tuesday night in Hamilton, with another at the Sandys Middle School yesterday and today’s meeting will be at the World Heritage Centre in St George, beginning at 6pm and concluding at around 7.30pm.