UK needs to take 'leap of faith' in cancer treatments

The UK needs to take a ‘giant leap of faith’ in cancer care if it is to avoid falling behind in the development of innovative treatments.

Professor Karol Sikora, medical director of Proton Partners International and a former former head of the World Health Organisation’s cancer programme, said World Cancer Day (today) is a poignant moment for those involved in tackling cancer to make an honest ‘assessement’ of the progress made.

He said: “World Cancer Day has embraced the slogan WeCan ICan which is a wonderfully positive affirmation of what we believe we can achieve in treating cancer. We have brilliant scientists, world-class oncologists and tremendous nurses all passionate in doing their utmost for patients.

“However, we must also be honest and acknowledge that the UK still has to raise its game and take a leap of faith with the treatments that are going to make a difference.

“I, too, am passionate and believe that proton beam therapy can transform cancer care in the UK.

“There are more than 150,000 cancer patients in the UK every year, who are treated with radiation therapy and at least 10% of these patients could be better treated with proton beam therapy. This is a key debate over the supply and demand for proton beam therapy.

“The range of published estimates for the utilisation of protons in radical radiotherapy ranges from 1% to 20% in the US. Recent policy studies from several European countries indicate a 10-15% utilisation of protons in patients treated with radical radiotherapy and this is now the basis of health department strategic planning in Holland, Germany, France, Italy and Scandinavia.

“Estimates would suggest 10-20 proton beam therapy treatment rooms would be required for Britain and would ensure that 10% of patients currently receiving radical radiotherapy would receive protons. It is clear from this that unless we as a country embrace change wholeheartedly, the overall quality of British radiotherapy will fall below European levels by 2020.

“The UK has been left behind in the provision of proton beam therapy treatment centres and I am delighted and proud that is now changing with both private providers and the NHS starting to build clinics.

“As we know, protons deliver the same damage to cancer cells as radiotherapy; however, they can be controlled to stop at a defined point in the body. Protons are not a panacea but they offer excellent treatments for a range of hard tumours and have proved very effective in treating children. The provision of the right facilities are a must so that we as a nation no longer have to send patients to the USA for treatment.”

Proton Partners International has already completed its first proton beam therapy centre in Newport, South Wales and is building a number of oncology centres across the UK named The Rutherford Cancer Centres. The other centres currently under development in Northumberland, Reading and Liverpool will install the same proton beam therapy system. Locations for a clinic in central London are also being considered.