Proton beam therapy out of reach for many with cancer

Source: The post is based on the article “Proton beam therapy out of reach for many with cancer” published in The Hindu on 29th February 2023

What is the News?

Cancer patients in India face twin challenges when it comes to accessing proton beam therapy (PBT): insufficient number of facilities offering the treatment and cost running into many lakhs of rupees.

What is Proton Beam Therapy(PBT)?

Proton beam therapy (PBT) is a form of radiotherapy used to treat certain cancers. It uses high-energy beams of protons, rather than X-rays, to deliver a dose of radiotherapy.

The PBT is considered a viable alternative to radiation for treating solid tumors, especially head and neck cancers.

Benefits of Proton Therapy: The key benefit of proton therapy is the ability to target tumor cells, more precisely. Research shows that proton therapy results in a higher dose of radiation to the tumor, but significantly less radiation to healthy cells near the tumor. 

– With less healthy tissue affected by the radiation, side effects may be milder, and there is less risk of developing secondary cancers due to radiation.

What are the challenges in accessing PBT Therapy in India?

Not enough facilities offering PBT Treatment: Currently, there are 42 PBT machine installations in the U.S. followed by Europe (35), Japan (26), China (seven), Taiwan (three), and South Korea (two) while India has only one.

– Apollo Hospital is the only center in the whole of South and West Asia offering the PBT.

Huge cost to set up: Setting up a PBT center is fraught with infrastructural and regulatory challenges stemming from safety concerns from the Department of Atomic Energy. 

– A PBT machine is a huge contraption, up to three storeys tall, and costs nearly ₹500 crores.

Costly treatment: Apollo Hospital has been able to reduce the cost of PBT from nearly ₹1.2 crores (as charged in the U.S.) to between ₹5 lahks and ₹30 lahks. But it is still running into many lakhs of rupees.

– Note: ​​The PBT unit in the AIIMS was also planned. It was meant to benefit poor patients as the treatment would have been free of cost, but the plan has now been shelved.

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