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Proton beam therapy finally arrives in UK

Published on 04/04/18 at 10:03am
IMAGE: Wikipedia/Steinninn

28 years after the US first pioneered proton beam therapy at Loma Linda University Medical Center, the UK now has its own centre that will be able to provide this type of treatment to patients.

The high-energy proton beam therapy will be available via a private clinic in Newport, Wales, after the company behind it receiving funding from the Welsh Government.

The therapy can be used on cancers that are dangerous or difficult to reach with standard radiotherapy. It carries the benefit of not damaging healthy cells and is particularly useful in the treatment of young patients, who are naturally more sensitive to radiation.

Up until now, patients from the UK had to travel to the US to receive treatment, which incurred huge costs – not only in terms of travel but the cost of treatment itself.

It is estimated that the service provided by the private clinic in Newport will cost £60,000 per patient. At the moment, no agreement has been made between the company behind the centre and the Welsh NHS to cover patient expenses.

Mike Moran, Chief Executive of Proton Partners International, the business behind the clinic, said: “For us, this is the first step in ensuring that UK patients who need proton beam therapy do not need to travel abroad to receive treatment – something which is all the more important with cancer rates continuing to rise, and with research indicating that proton therapy has significantly lower side effects than traditional cancer treatments.”

There are further centres planned to be opened this year that will be part of the NHS, with Manchester set to house such facilities at Christie Hospital and London also set to have its own, at University College Hospital.

Neither of these centres came cheaply, at £250 million of government funding and additional fundraising, but it will allow the NHS to provide the treatment in-house, reducing the cost compared to the private clinic in Wales.

The centres will actually join a well-established proton beam therapy centre in the UK, at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust in Liverpool; however, this facility only has the option of treating ocular cancer due to its low-energy proton beam.

Proton beam therapy is becoming increasingly popular worldwide, partly driven by private companies’ suggestions that it is a more effective treatment for some cancers.

One of the issues with measuring its success rate is that those treated are often suffering from rare diseases, making clinical trials difficult to establish.

However, there are cases where it provides a safer form of treatment and now those patients will be able to receive that treatment within the UK.

Ben Hargreaves

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