PGI told to shut gamma knife unit

Anuja Jaiswal
Tribune News Service

Perhaps having learnt lessons from the negligence that led to the radioactive leakage of cobalt-60 in Mayapuri, New Delhi, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board of India (AERB) has ordered the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Sciences & Research to close down its gamma knife unit and cobalt machine in the absence of a medical physicist.

Confirming the move, PGI spokesperson Manju Wadwalkar said after receiving the instructions from AERB, the institute’s administration has suspended the procedure from May 14 till the appointment of a medical physicist, who is responsible for monitoring the radiation dose and its safe applications.

According to officials, since the recruitment procedure is lengthy, the gamma knife services - necessary for treatment of cancer - may not be available for a few more months.

The absence of the procedure at PGI is obviously going to result in difficulties for cancer patients undergoing treatment at the hospital. Many will have to pay exorbitant charges to get the treatment at private hospitals, as they would end up paying almost double than what it costs at PGI.

Sources said brain tumour patients would have to undergo traditional neurosurgery in the absence of gamma knife services at PGI. At private hospitals they will have to shell out Rs 1.5 lakh for the gamma knife procedure, which costs Rs 75,000 at PGI.

The sources also revealed that the posts of medical physicists are not in proportion to the number of machines being used for radiation therapy at PGI. Of the eight sanctioned posts only four have been filled. Recently one medical physicist resigned, thus taking the total number of vacancies to five.

According to AERB’s instructions, there should be a separate medical physicist for each radiation process including gamma knife procedures.

Talking to The Tribune, Wadwalkar said the posts have been advertised. “We are in the process of recruitment and the procedure will start soon,” she said, adding on an average almost ten gamma knife procedures were being conducted every month. Nearly 120 procedures have been performed during the past one year.

Gamma knife is a radio surgery procedure that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumours, precisely to avoid damage to healthy brain tissue. Cobalt-60 is, among other things, used in radiography to treat cancer patients.

The treatment has proved effective for treatment of intracranial tumours - both malignant and benign - as well as vascular lesions in any locations.

The risks of gamma knife radio surgery are very minimal.

The treatment can be performed even in areas that are extremely difficult to access by open brain surgery. This facility was not available in northwest India before January 2009.

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