An increasing number of people in Serbia are fighting some type of cancer at the moment. The number of cancer patients and cancer fatalities has been growing, and our country is one of the record holders in Europe when it comes to the number of people who have died from cancer.
Professor Danica Grujicic, PhD, Head of the Head of the Neuro-Oncology Department at the Institute of Neurosurgery of Clinical Centre of Serbia, is not optimistic about this problem, and immediately points out that, in the following period, we can expect even more cancer patients which is, as she points out, the consequence of the bombing of Serbia in 1999 which poisoned the environment we live in.
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THE AFTERMATH OF AIR RAIDS
„What I am referring to here, apart from being bombed, is destruction of many chemical processing facilities. To this day, we don’t have an explanation where this toxic matters end up in – land, water, or maybe air? I think that the next government should do something about it. Like, for instance, put together a group of toxicologists, environmentalists, veterinarians, and other experts who would tell us what had been polluted and to what degree. This also comes under caring for our offspring, because in 30 to 40 years time we are really going to see the effects of the bombs. From the following statistical data you can clearly see the correlation between patients with malignant tumours and bombing of Serbia. The global average of people with malignant tumours per million inhabitants is 2,000, while this average in Serbia is 5.500, twice more. This, of course, is not a coincidence“, Dr Grujicic points out.
It is a sad truth that cancer does not discriminate. It comes when a person least expects it. One of the most serious oncologic diseases is certainly brain tumor. The statistical data shows that, in the world 15 people per 100,000 fall ill with this disease, while, in Serbia, the average is 250. Brain tumours usually affect people between 45 and 65 years of age, and it is especially disconcerting to notice that an increasing number of children have been suffering from brain tumours in the last few years.
Every year, the doctors at the Institute of Neurosurgery operate on 1,200 patients with brain tumour. There are no waiting lists because malignant tumours should not be left in patient’s head for more than two weeks, let alone longer than that, Dr Grujicic says. She adds that the youngest patient admitted to surgery was only three months old, and the oldest 84.
Newsweek’s reporter learned just how important was for Serbia to keep up with the latest developments in oncology when he visited the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan. This hospital has the latest equipment and has been constantly investing in training its staff to be able to perform the most complex surgeries at any given moment. One of the most complicated and demanding surgeries is certainly operating brain tumour on a patient that is conscious which is done in order to avoid the damage to functional parts of the brain – says Professor Pietro Mortini, PhD, Head of Neurosurgery and Radiosurgery at San Raffaele.
“During surgery there is also a neuro-psychiatrist present who talks to the patient all the time. In this way, surgeons are able to determine which parts of the brain are functional, and proceed with the safe removal of the tumour. After the tumour is removed, the doctor talks to the patient again. Interestingly enough, patients oftentimes don’t even remember the surgery because they do receive some kind of anesthesia. The patient meets and talks to the neuro-psychiatrist before and during preparation for the surgery”, Dr Mortini says, adding that the surgeons at San Raffele perform brain surgery on conscious patients every week.
Dr Danica Grujicic says that such surgery can be done in Serbia. This type of surgery is good because the surgeon can control the so-called mental functions of the patient – especially speech, naming objects, calculating, memorizing, repeating, putting sentences together, thoughts, and emotions. The only reasons why this type of surgery is not done more in Serbia is lack of ORs.
The biggest development in treating brain tumours in Serbia came with the purchase of the Gamma Knife which came to our country last year. This medical equipment is considered pure gold in treating brain tumours because there is no need to actually surgically open the patient’s head and the surgery is virtually painless. Purchasing Gamma Knife was one of the most expensive investments in the Serbian healthcare system, worth around 4.5 million EUR. This equipment has raised many hopes, particularly for those patients who cannot be helped with the classical surgery.
GAMMA KNIFE HAS(NOT) ARRIVED
However the question remain whether Serbia was too late in acquiring this life-saving medical equipment because hospitals in other countries have been using it for many years now. Dr Mortini from the San Raffaele Hospital could not believe when I told him that Serbia had been using Gamma Knife only for a year. Dr Mortini says that, in Italy, Gamma Knife had been used for over 21 years now, and six hospitals have it.
“Gamma Knife works in a way that it radiates cancer cells, preventing them from growing further and causing their eventual demise. This method is very precise and there is no need to keep the patient in the hospital for a long time, i.e. the recovery period is short. Gamma-radiation is used on those patients whose cancer has already metastasized, and has proven to be very effective”, Dr Mortini explains.
Although Dr Danica Grujicic thinks that Serbia should have purchased Gamma Knife earlier, she says that it is never too late to buy such a technological wonder.
„Of course we should have purchased it earlier, but only the current Health Ministry, with Minister Lončar at its helm, had enough understanding to get such an important medical device. In the first eight and a half month, we have operated on more than 500 patients. The procedure itself is very comfortable for the patient, we are still gaining experience, but we are also learning from others. Back in the day, only 100 patients a year were sent abroad by the National Health Insurance Fund to be operated on with Gamma Knife, so you can imagine how many patients did not receive the treatment. In short, the experiences so far have been great and we are moving forward”, Dr Grujicic concludes.
By Boban Karovic
This post is also available in: Italiano