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Vol 23, No. 11, November 2019For e-subscribers (PDF)
EYE ON CHINA
Ion treatment offers new hope for cancer patients
First carbon ion cancer treatment system approved by the National Medical Products Administration in China.

China's first carbon ion cancer treatment system is currently installed at the Wuwei Cancer Hospital in Gansu province to provide safer, more effective radiation therapy for the public, scientists said on 10 October.

The project that led to the creation of the system was launched in 1993 by the Institute of Modern Physics under the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Lanzhou Kejin Taiji Co. The finished product represents a major milestone in China's domestically made advanced medical equipment, said Xiao Guoqing, the project's manager and a researcher from the institute.

First developed by the United States in 1975, the technique of treating cancer with accelerated heavy ions has been viewed globally as the next frontier of cancer treatment, he said. While ions of many elements have been tested, scientists eventually discovered carbon ions are the most suitable in treating tumours and minimizing peripheral tissue damage.

The carbon ion treatment works by accelerating carbon ions to around 70 percent of the speed of light and then blasting these ion beams at a tumour, destroying its cells' DNA and ultimately killing them.

The accelerated ions are more destructive to cancer cells than photons, which are traditionally used in gamma and x-ray radiotherapy, said Wang Xiaohu, vice-president of Gansu Province Cancer Hospital. This makes it possible to deliver a large dose of ions in a small and well-targeted volume tailored to the shape and depth of the tumour. Unlike photons that continue to penetrate and harm the body, the carbon ions will deposit their energy, kill the cancer cells and then stay within the tumour, reducing damage to healthy surrounding tissues and thereby lowering the risk of side effects, Wang said.

Carbon ion therapy can also work on patients whose tumours are too difficult for invasive surgical removal or are unsuitable for typical x-ray treatments, he added.

Given these advantages, Xiao said Germany and Japan have been researching and testing heavy ion therapy since the 1990s. Now, about 30,000 patients have received the treatment at 11 centres in Germany, Japan, Italy and Austria, with more locations under development in France, China, South Korea, Japan and other countries and regions.

Xiao said China has a massive demand for quality cancer treatments. According to the National Cancer Research Centre, in 2015 China had around 3.9 million malignant tumour patients, as well as 2.3 million related deaths.

Compared to importing expensive medical machines, the domestically made carbon-ion cancer treatment system costs significantly less to build and maintain, thus allowing patients to enjoy cheaper treatments, he said. Similar installations in other parts of the world can run hundreds of millions of US dollars each, while the Chinese version costs about 550 million yuan ($78.5 million).

The average price of heavy ion treatment around the world is 250,000 to 300,000 yuan per course of treatment. The new machine aims to lower it to around 200,000 yuan, and part of the cost might be covered by insurance companies, Xiao said.

So far, the carbon-ion treatment has proved effective in treating early to mid-stage prostate, liver, rectal and lung cancers, and for advanced bone and soft tissue sarcomas. In the first few years, Wuwei Cancer Hospital will treat hundreds of patients per year and aims to gradually increase that number to more than 1,000 per year, he said.

(Source: China Daily)

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