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Proton Beam Therapy

Proton beam therapy - more effect, less damage

Proton Beam therapy delivers more cancer-killing energy to the tumour, but does little damage to healthy tissue before or behind the tumour, nor does it ´scatter´ side ways, anything like as much as standard, old-fashioned radiotherapy (and even modern versions of radiotherapy, like Cyberknife).

As such it is perfect for child brain tumours, or any tumour where damage can occur to surrounding organs - like prostate, lung, liver, oesophagus etc.  There are new, small station Proton Beam Therapy units springing up across America, and Britain should have about 6 across the next 6 years.

Why is Proton Beam Therapy so much better than standard radiotherapy?

    (i) Protons of a given energy have a defined range of penetration. Thus the energy can be adjusted during treatment not to go beyond the tumour; and tissues closer to the surface of the body will also receive far less radiation than with standard radiotherapy.

    (ii) Protons have a relatively large mass and have little side “scatter” in the tissue.

All in all Proton Beam Therapy is felt to be far safer than standard radiotherapy.

Aysha’s Treatment – just two hours from London

August 2014 saw a man hunt across Europe – or rather, a young boy hunt. Ashya King’s parents, Brett and Naghmeh King, took him out of NHS care ‘before their radiotherapy killed him or left him a cabbage’. Their 5-year old son had a brain tumour. After making a dash to the family home in Spain, they were found; but a judge ruled they could take their son to a hospital that had a state-of-the-art Proton Beam machine, just two hours from London. In Prague, Czechoslovakia.

With no such centre in the UK, currently, in the end the NHS footed the bill. The parents were delighted with the treatment and declared their son to have a complete ´all clear´ in March 2015.

Proton Beam Therapy - the most advanced radiation available 

I’m sure MD Anderson won’t mind me quoting directly from their website: The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center offers the most advanced radiation available to treat cancers of the prostate, lung, head and neck, liver, oesophagus and brain, as well as for the treatment of lymphoma, paediatric cancers and other rare cancers.
Our cancer specialists are international cancer experts and leaders in the research and treatment of cancer. We pioneered the innovative, extremely precise form of proton therapy known as pencil beam scanning, and our center is part of MD Anderson Cancer Center, which has been ranked as one of the nation’s top two cancer centers by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1990.

So they seem pretty confident in it. What clearly drew Aysha’s parent to the therapy was the smiling female doctor on the website who says: “Proton Therapy allows us to help children with cancer go on to live happy and healthy lives with fewer treatment-related side-effects”.

Surely not? You mean ordinary radiotherapy has side-effects?? icon magazine was once thrown out of Bath and Cardiff Hospitals because an oncologist there said it was not true.

The specialist unit has a great many patient studies since the first treatment in 2006. Never-the-less, the NCI is planning a phase III clinical trial of the treatment against normal radiotherapy.

The UK plans proton beam therapy units

The UK is now to get its first three centres. Cardiff will open in 2016, with London and Northumberland to follow in 2017. 

By that time the NHS estimates that it could be paying out to take at least 1,500 patients abroad.

The three new centres will actually be privately owned by a company called Proton Partners, which has generated over £100 million in private and institutional funding to build the centres. Professor Gordon McVie, senior consultant at the European Institute of Oncology and chairman of the company, said the new centres are an “exciting and important development of the provision of cancer treatment in the UK”.

The new UK centres will be available for NHS patients from England, Scotland and Wales, patients with private health insurance and self-paying patients.

Not to be outdone, the UK Government hopes to launch two Proton Beam Therapy centres in 2018.

Cancer Research UK poured cold water on the excitement with their estimates that only 1 in 100 people requiring radiotherapy would benefit from proton therapy, adding that there was no long-term research* on this new treatment and that people who travelled abroad were chosen because the outcome was more likely to be successful. 

It is however an interesting development when put against, for example, the consideration to bring two hugely expensive Cyberknife machines into use in the UK because they would reduce side-effects while delivering more attack on the tumour. There is no long-term research on Cyberknife either. Yet it is here, and in use.

* The treatment was first invented by MD Anderson, in 2006. Well before the CyberKnife, which CRUK backs.

Go To: Professor Mike Brada talks about Proton Beam Therapy and brain cancer

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