Written by Kim Furlow, communications manager for the Institute for Public Health
Globally by 2030, it is predicted that there will be 24 million new cancer cases per year, with 75% of cancer deaths occurring in the developing world. Baozhou Sun, PhD, associate professor of radiation oncology at the School of Medicine, Institute for Public Health faculty scholar and Global Health Center collaborator, and teams of university and global partners are working to bring advanced radiation therapy treatments (RT) to underserved parts of the globe.
Cancer has become a major public health problem in Mongolia as it accounts for more than 25% of all deaths. Of its 6,000 cancer patients diagnosed in 2020, due to lack of access and other factors, only 13% of patients were treated with radiation therapy (RT). Currently, the National Cancer Center of Mongolia (NCCM) is the country’s only RT center.
In collaboration with WashU’s Department of Radiation Oncology, the Global Health Center, and NCCM, Sun’s team is using a grant from the American Association of Physicists in Medicine, to bring advanced types of radiation treatment to Mongolia’s cancer patients, and training to its staff. NCCM will be introduced to a rapid deployment and efficient quality assurance of advanced radiotherapy system developed at WashU called RACER, which will help streamline patient data collection, improve efficiencies in the process of cancer treatment delivery, and automate and standardize quality assurance processes. Sun says the goal is to bring this type of state-of-the-art treatment and technology to other lower- and middle-income countries. For Mongolia, it is essential. “This project will significantly enhance NCCM’s capabilities to increase RT delivery to a larger number of patients with improved quality, helping to bridge a major health care gap,” says Sun.
More than 33% of the Ugandan people live below the poverty line and the average life expectancy is 60 years. The Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) is the only cancer treatment center in the country. The country’s population is 47 million. UCI received 6,000 new cancer patients in 2021, alone.
Through a 2021 Global Incubator Seed Grant from WashU’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy, Sun and colleagues recently teamed with UCI and Makerere University School of Medicine in Africa, to modernize radiation therapy for Uganda cancer patients. The Global Health Center supported the team’s online training for UCI staff. In May, the first patients received the advanced treatment to great success. Read more about the project.
Two of Sun’s UCI colleagues, Awusi Kavuma, medical physicist and Solomon Kibudde, radiation oncologist, recently visited WashU and spoke in front of an audience of about 70 oncology faculty and global health students about the current status of radiotherapy in Uganda and UCI’s transition to more advanced therapies. Both speakers stressed the importance of UCI’s collaboration with the university and its exemplary teams.
“We identified a training gap between the current type of radiotherapy offered and the advanced version,” said Solomon Kibudde. “We are pleased to shadow oncologists at WashU, and learn about more efficient patient workflows and radiation therapy methods that will be of great benefit to our patients. In the past two months, since we have implemented the new radiation therapies, we have observed lowered side effects in many patients, and our hope is to increase the number of patients treated in this way.”
We have learned so much through our collaborations with WashU. After using simplified methods of delivering radiation therapy for the past two decades, we have been helped by learning new techniques and in turn, our patients have had better outcomes. Additionally, new therapies can increase patient capacity by approximately 30% and decrease the time patients must wait to start their therapy.Awusi Kavuma, medical physicist at Uganda Cancer Institute
We hope to continue and expand these collaborations at cancer treatment centers in additional lower- and middle-income countries,” adds Sun. “Collaboration is extremely important for good patient outcomes and a better quality of life.”
The Global Health Center at the Institute for Public Health continues to collaborate in university efforts to advance cancer care across the globe. Read about our partnership benefitting cancer patients in Guatemala.