“Being part of the ACI, we’ve been able to establish partnerships with one of the most prestigious organisations in the world and that’s the MD Anderson Cancer Center,” Professor Vikash Sewram, director of the African Cancer Institute (ACI) told CNBCafrica.com.
“What we’re looking at is to evaluate some new technology that has been developed to basically look at cancer cells very early, when normal cells become cancerous.”
HOW THE TECHNOLOGY WORKS
The prototype High-Resolution MicroEndoscope (HRME) provides subcellular images of the oesophageal epithelium, from which cellular changes can be studied.
It also appears to increase the specificity of oesophageal squamous dysplasia (OSD) detection, which can prevent unnecessary tissue biopsies of unstained lesions as well as minimise the cost of pathology.
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According to Sewram, it can be used to detect early cervical changes as well as changes regarding cancers of the oesophagus.
He also indicated that the technology has been preliminarily evaluated in China as an adjunct to Lugol’s chromoendoscopy for early detection.
“This new technology can be used as what we call a ‘point of care’ test so that patients don’t have to go into a tertiary-level hospital, they could actually go to their primary healthcare centres,” Sewram said.
“You don’t burden the tertiary level services [and] you are able to screen patients very quickly.”
THE VOICE OF A SURVIVOR
Cervical and breast cancer are the two most common types in women on the continent.
Insufficient healthcare and limited resources have caused cancers like cervical cancer to run rife in sub-Saharan Africa, with around 528,000 new cases recorded every year.
Early cancer detection can help women like Itumeleng Letoaba, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. This led to a mastectomy in which she was forced to remove her left breast.
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Letoaba was a traditional dancer at the time and says she struggled to give up something that made her so happy.
“I couldn’t go back to traditional dancing, I couldn’t dance again,” she said.
“During this journey, I realised that a woman with one breast can do many things. I used to be one part of the community, now I’m bringing back in another way by talking to people, motivating other people.”
THE GROWING NEED FOR PROPER CARE
Due to the fact that proper cancer care and treatment is so scarce in less urban areas, Sewram emphasised the need for a technology like this, which can be rolled out in areas with very limited resources.
“We’re in the process of establishing it here in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape province. We anticipate that by the end of this year, we would [have] set up sites where we could evaluate this,” he stated.
“I don’t anticipate any problems in rolling this out [in Africa]. It would bring affordable care to people that can’t afford to go to tertiary level care.”
COLLABORATIVE EFFORT IS ESSENTIAL
Sewram added that there is a lot of commitment to fight breast and cervical cancer on the continent but that it would require a collaborative effort.
“It’s not something that we can deal with alone. We certainly don’t have the resources, the infrastructure or the skillset but by coming together, in a constructive way, we can make an impact,” he said.