Dr Sarah Fairhead is a radiation oncologist at Cape Oncology at Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town. She treats brain, breast and lung cancer. Palliative care is a primary focus when it comes to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and targeted cancer therapy.
Dr Sarah Fairhead completed her medical degree from The University of Cape Town and is a Fellow in Radiation Oncology. Dr Fairhead has a Masters in Medicine and specialised in palliative medicine. Malignant brain tumours, breast cancer, gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary cancer are the doctor’s interests and specialities.
Services includes :
- Brain tumours
A brain tumour is a large mass of mutated cells. Brain tumours are either benign or malignant. Although symptoms of brain tumours vary, headaches, vision problems, nausea, balance issues, speech problems and seizures are common signs of brain tumours. Glioma and meningioma are different types of brain tumours. Meningioma is a brain tumour that forms in the meninges. The meninges are membranes that engulf the brain and spinal cord. Technically, a meningioma isn't a brain tumour, but it does affect the brain. Meningiomas are slow-growing brain tumours that compress the brain, blood vessels and nerves. Because of the slow nature of a meningioma, the oncologist may adopt a simple "watch and wait" method before she commences treatment.
- Stereotactic radiosurgery
Stereotactic radiosurgery is a non-invasive form of targeted radiation therapy. For stereotactic radiosurgery, high doses of radiation are delivered to specific regions of the body. Because the treatments are not as intense as traditional therapy, healthy tissue remains intact. Stereotactic radiosurgery is used to treat small brain tumours and impaired brain function. High doses are directed to the cancerous region while low doses don't damage nearby tissue. Three-dimensional imaging technology like CT and MRI scans helps locate the tumour.
- Breast cancer
Breast cancer is cancer that occurs in breast cells. Changes in breast shape, colour and size, as well as nipple discharge, are signs of breast cancer. Breast cancer develops in the milk ducts or breast glands. Cancer also forms in the fatty tissue of the breast. Cancer of the breast may also infiltrate the lymphatic system and contaminate healthy tissue. Due to the infectious nature of breast cancer, a breast biopsy helps confirm the spread of the disease. A sentinel lymph node biopsy is an examination of the breast lymph nodes. Cancer first enters the sentinel lymph nodes before it moves through the body.
Chemotherapy is a powerful drug therapy that utilises chemicals to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is often combined with surgery to obliterate cancer cells. Although chemotherapy is highly effective, it does have side effects. Nausea, hair loss, diarrhoea, constipation, lethargy, fever, bleeding and pain are side effects of chemotherapy. Chemotherapy comes in many different forms and may be taken orally or intravenously. Chemotherapy is available in the form of infusions, shots, pills and creams: chemotherapy creams or topical chemotherapy target skin cancer like melanoma. A specialist oncologist administers chemotherapy as an in or outpatient procedure. Patients may also take chemotherapy capsules at home.
Immunotherapy is an alternative form of cancer therapy. Immunotherapy boosts and utilises the body's defence mechanisms to fight against cancer. Naturally, the immune system fights against infections and diseases. Immunotherapy enhances the body’s defence system and triggers the destruction of cancer cells. There are many ways to administer immunotherapy. Immunotherapy comes in the form of infusions, oral capsules and creams. Topical immunotherapy treats early-stage skin cancer. Although immunotherapy targets and kills cancer cells, it has some side effects. The immune system may mistakenly attack healthy cells. Side effects of immunotherapy include weight gain, palpitations, congestion, diarrhoea, infection and inflammation. Checkpoint inhibitors, T-cell transfer and special immune system proteins called monoclonal antibodies are different types of immunotherapy.
- Lung cancer
Lung cancer is a form of cancer that develops in the lungs. Lung cancer is one of the most widespread cancers that affect smokers and people who are exposed to second-hand cigarette smoke. In its initial stages, lung cancer presents no symptoms. Symptoms of the disease only occur once the disease has metastasised. A recurrent cough, traces of blood in phlegm, chest pain, trouble breathing, excessive weight loss, bone pain and headaches are signs of an advanced stage of lung cancer. X-rays reveal abnormalities in the lungs, and a tissue sample is dissected through a bronchoscopy or needle biopsy.
- Targeted cancer therapy
Targeted cancer therapy utilises drugs to attack cancer cells. Targeted cancer therapy may be combined with radiotherapy and chemotherapy for optimal results. How cancer develops depends on its environment—types of enzymes or proteins prompt cancer to replicate. Targeted cancer therapy comprises of drugs that attack DNA and proteins which form cancer. These drugs block signals which prompt cell replication. When checkpoints are blocked, proteins that form cancer die or become stunted. Targeted cancer therapy differs from chemotherapy as it only destroys cancer cells and preserves a majority of healthy cells. Targeted cancer therapy is also an effective treatment as it prevents the spread of the disease.
Radiotherapy uses high levels of radiation to shrink or stop the growth of cancer cells. Radiation breaks down tumours, and the body removes leftover material. Radiotherapy may either be internal or external. External beam radiation entails the use of a noisy machine that rotates around the body and delivers radiation to specific areas of the body. Brachytherapy is an internal form of radiotherapy. Radioactive seeds that are positioned near the tumour release radiation that stunts its growth. Brachytherapy is an ideal form of radiotherapy that’s used to treat prostate, cervical and breast cancer.