HEALTH Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor are considering asking the government to fund a R1,2bn expansion of iThemba Labs so that it can offer proton therapy to more cancer patients.

iThemba Labs, managed by the National Research Foundation (NRF), is the only proton therapy facility in the southern hemisphere. However, it can only provide treatment for four months of the year because the cyclotron used to produce the proton beams that kill tumours is also used for scientific research and to produce radioisotopes. It is available for proton therapy two days a week for four months of the year.

Dr Motsoaledi said the government needed to plan for the growing burden of non-communicable diseases, including cancer.

"One part of it is cancer risk factors (like smoking) ... the other is dealing with those who are affected," he told journalists after he was briefed by officials from the NRF and iThemba Labs lobbying for the construction of a new cyclotron at the Faure-based facility near Cape Town.

Yogan Pillay, deputy director-general for strategic health programmes at the Department of Health, said the two ministers were considering submitting a joint memorandum to the Cabinet motivating for funds to improve South Africa's proton therapy capacity.

Expansion of iThemba Labs was one option, but it might also be possible to build a proton therapy unit in another part of the country, he said.

kahnt@bdfm.co.za