Proton beam therapy gains momentum as patients claim it can transform lives of thousands

Proton beam therapy gains momentum as patients claim it can transform lives of thousands

Proton beam therapy could transform the lives of thousands of patients according to one of the first patients to receive the treatment in the UK, as the pioneering treatment took centre stage at a conference which sees one of the biggest gatherings of oncologists and radiotherapists in the world.

Timon Colegrove, one of the first patients to receive proton beam therapy in the UK for prostate cancer at the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Newport, said: “I am very pleased to be here at this conference to witness the remarkable progress being made in cancer care. I was very fortunate to receive proton beam therapy and I am a firm advocate of greater availability of this pioneering form of cancer care.”

“Having proton beam therapy meant that I did not suffer from the grueling side effects that come with conventional treatments, which in the case of prostate cancer can be incontinency or impotency. I was able to fight the disease with minimal disruption to my life and work, which I think is a remarkable feat for anyone facing cancer.”

The Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group (PTCOG) conference, which has been taking place since 1985, takes place in Manchester this week for the first time.

The conference takes place in the backdrop of a ground-breaking study published last month by the University of Pennsylvania, involving over 1,400 patients, which found that the risk of side effects from toxicity to the body was two-thirds lower for proton beam therapy patients compared to conventional radiation therapies.

Unlike conventional radiotherapy which delivers X-ray beams to attack a tumour site and leaves radiation deposits in surrounding tissues, proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that delivers heavily charged protons in a more targeted manner to reduce damage to peripheral tissue and organs.

Proton beam therapy arrived in the UK about a year ago through the Rutherford Cancer Centres and an NHS facility. Rutherford’s centre in Newport treated a UK cancer patient with proton beam therapy for the first time in April 2018 and now treat NHS Wales patients thanks to an agreement with the Welsh government. They now have three fully operational centres.

As the number of patients treated with this precision therapy grows, there is ongoing debate in the UK on which cancers proton beam therapy is best placed to treat. This is reflected in the indications guidance for proton therapy, where the NHS estimates 1% of radical radiotherapy patients can be better treated with protons whereas European and North American estimates range from 10 - 15% utilisation of protons.  

Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer at Proton Partners International which operates the Rutherford centres, said: “These are very exciting times, there is now a clear and definitive clinical pattern emerging when it comes to the effectiveness of proton beam therapy.”

“Whilst proton beam therapy is not a panacea for all cancers, we have seen its effectiveness in treating various types of cancers, and new research clearly indicates that far more patients stand to benefit from this treatment.”