Increase in cancer rates
In 2018, an estimated 18.1 million people were diagnosed with cancer, 9.6 million patients died on account of the disease. It is expected that these numbers will only increase in the future. By 2030, we are likely to count around 26.4 million new cancer cases and 17 million deaths every year. The survival rates are rising year after year thanks to new and better therapies. This positive evolution is the result of the efforts made by SCK CEN and its partners.
Fewer side effects for a better quality of life
Even though the survival rates are rising year after year, there is still a long way to go in terms of quality of life. Patients still have to cope with adverse effects caused by either their disease or their treatment years after the therapy. They then feel it hampers their work or social life, and they are at risk of developing a new cancer following the initial radiotherapy. There is a great need for personalised and, particularly, less invasive cancer therapies.
SCK CEN puts its back into cancer research and uses its expertise to meet this need. Our approach is versatile.
Producing medical radioisotopes
Belgium is one of the five key players in the international production and distribution of medical radioisotopes. Every year, nearly 7 million patients can undergo a medical examination thanks to the Belgian production of Molybdenum-99, one of the most used radioisotopes in nuclear medicine for the diagnosis of cancer. SCK CEN is continuously adapting its equipment to increase its irradiation capacity and to produce a new radioisotope generation, among which Lutetium-177 and Yttrium-90 to respectively treat prostate cancer or neuroendocrine cancer, and liver cancer. Neuroendocrine cells are mainly found in organs of the digestive system and the respiratory tract.
With conventional therapies, it is still difficult to spare the healthy tissue around the tumour. Proton therapy uses a beam of accelerated protons, particles with a positive electric charge. These particles deposit the maximum dose only at the tumour and barely around it. The radiation does not scatter around the tumour which allows for less damage to the surrounding healthy tissue compared to conventional radiotherapy. This technique is used in the treatment of cancer in children or when irradiating cancer cells near sensitive tissue such as around optic nerves. SCK CEN studies the biological effects of proton therapy. SCK CEN also performs research into conventional photon and proton therapy to better determine the radiation doses.
Developing targeted therapies
With targeted therapies, cancer patients do not undergo any external radiotherapy (irradiation) but therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals are administered to them. Therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals are medicine using a carrier molecule to target a radioactive substance towards a tumour. As soon as the molecule attaches itself to the cell, the radioisotope will irradiate the cancer cell. The intention is to disrupt the DNA of the tumour cell and to eventually kill the tumour cell. Thanks to NURA, SCK CEN contributes to the development and characterization of therapeutic radiopharmaceuticals.
BR2: the vital lung to make cancer research breathe
The research reactor Belgian Reactor 2 (BR2) is a vital player in the worldwide distribution of medical radioisotopes. In nuclear medicine, radioisotopes are used for the diagnosis and treatment of several diseases, including cancer. The BR2 produces annually more than 25% of the global demand for Molybdenum-99 or, in case of high demand, up to 65%. Every year, some nearly 7 million examinations are carried out thanks to the Belgian production. Our clients appreciate the high reliability of SCK CEN as a supplier.