In Roaring Good Health
Posted on 15 October 2019
Chaos made headlines around the world as the first lion to undergo radiation treatment in a human clinic, Mediclinic Muelmed, for two cancerous lesions on his nose.
He was diagnosed with skin cancer at the age of 16, after doctors found a malignant lesion on his nose. Surgery was ruled out as a potential course of treatment, as it would have left him without a nose, and experts decided on a course of radiation therapy. There was just one problem: there were no facilities in South Africa with experience of taking on a case of this kind.
Why? He’s a lion.
Chaos lives in Lory Park Animal and Owl Sanctuary in Midrand, Gauteng. In April, after his carers discovered wounds on his nose, he was diagnosed with a rare squamous cell carcinoma on his nose and flank by wildlife veterinarians at the University of Pretoria’s Faculty of Veterinary Science. After experts decided against operating to remove the tumour, amid concerns the surgery would leave him without the majority of his nose, doctors made the innovative decision to try radiation therapy instead.
Chaos underwent four courses of radiotherapy treatment at Arcadia Oncology Centre, an Icon SA treatment centre at Mediclinic Muelmed, in Pretoria, explains Janetha du Toit, Northern Region Regional Area Manager: Icon SA.
The Independent Clinical Oncology Network (Icon), which accredits high-tech chemotherapy and radiation therapy facilities across South Africa, is a network of oncology specialists who are committed to widening access to quality cancer care. Its centres bring together radiotherapists and oncologists to offer a progressive, multidisciplinary approach in several Medclinic facilities, including those in Bloemfontein, Gauteng and the Western Cape.
Chaos, who weighs about 260kg, was anaesthetised and escorted into the hospital on a trolley, says Du Toit. He was taken through a back entrance in order not to alarm other patients.
Radiation therapy can typically be used as a primary form of treatment for squamous cell skin cancers when surgery is not feasible or preferable. The technique uses high-energy rays or particles, including electrons, to eliminate tumours, and is often effective at curing these abnormal growths or delaying the growth of more advanced cancers.
Focused from outside the body onto the tumour, radiation therapy involves using a linear accelerator to target tumours with a beam of low-energy X-rays, known as superficial radiation therapy, or electrons (electron beam radiation) that penetrate no deeper than the skin. These techniques help to ensure the potential side-effects of radiation exposure do not extend to other organs and body tissues.
Mediclinic Muelmed has a longstanding working relationship with Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute and the University of Pretoria Faculty of Veterinary Science, with radiation oncologist Dr Ingo de Mûelenaere, who is based at Arcadia Oncology Centre, having treated a number of domestic animals, as well as a leopard and cheetah.
Radiation treatment is painless, and each procedure lasts a few minutes. Chaos was blindfolded and bandaged carefully to protect the healthy and cancer-free parts of his face, explains Du Toit. His last course of treatment was completed in June.