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Eye Cancer – Early Detection Rather Than Late Treatment

The AHC Eye Clinic started its eye cancer treatment program in 2013. It was the first centre in Cambodia to treat retinoblastoma with chemotherapy and has treated more than 100 cases since then.

Retinoblastoma is a rare form of cancer that develops rapidly from the immature cells of a retina, the light-detecting tissue of the eye. It is found almost exclusively in young children. If treated early, there is an over 90% success rate for survival and for saving sight.

But in Cambodia, saving eyesight wasn’t always possible. “Before [introducing the program] we treated [cancer] by removing the eye. Before we just saved a life. Now we save the life and the sight,” says Dr. Khauv Phara, the head of AHC’s Eye Clinic. “Today the percentage of cases where both eyes have to be removed is very low and there were no cases [of eye removal] in 2017.”

AHC treated 25 eye cancer patients in 2017. But there have already been four cases in January and Dr. Phara expects the number of patients to double to 50 this year. This is because, increasingly, AHC is a referral centre and has developed a reputation for effectively treating rare cases. As a result, referrals come from hospitals across the country, including the National Eye Hospital in Phnom Penh.

The eye clinic team keeps up to date on the latest trends in eye cancer treatments in a few ways. Every two weeks, Dr. Phara has a conference call with an expert from St. Jude Research Hospital in the US and keeps in regular contact with other experts from around the world. In addition, the eye clinic team attends a yearly conference in Singapore to share what has happened at AHC with an international audience of doctors and to learn the latest in eye cancer research and treatment protocols.

In 2017, AHC added two oncologists to its staff, bringing the total number of oncologists at the hospital up to three. They treat all kinds of childhood cancers, not just eye cancer, but Dr. Phara hopes the extra help will enable him to focus on expanding services in the coming year.

Dr Phara’s main goal for 2018 is to raise public awareness of eye cancer. “Early detection rather than late treatment,” he says is the key to an even higher survival rate. He also hopes to be able to introduce advanced retinoblastoma treatment this year, including chemotherapy injections directly into the eye rather than into the bloodstream. With this technique, a much lower dose of chemo drugs are used, thus decreasing side effects.

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