Success of proton beam therapy centres highlighted

Capacity for treating patients with high-energy proton beam therapy has gone from zero three years ago to the capability for treating thousands of patients in the UK. 

A new report, Breaking Cancer Barriers: Proton Beam Therapy in the UK, reveals that since facilities were opened in the UK, more than 2,000 patients have been treated in the UK between the independent healthcare sector and NHS. 

The report also documents a significant rise in the number of oncologists being trained in the delivery of proton beam therapy and an increase in the number of medical insurance companies willing to support patients’ treatment financially.

Proton beam therapy in the UK is currently delivered by an NHS facility at the Christie Hospital, Manchester, and three Rutherford Cancer Centres in South Wales, Thames Valley and Northumberland. Combined, the four centres can treat around 2,000 patients at any time.

Prior to the establishment of these facilities, all proton therapy patients were sent abroad for treatment. The necessity to send patients abroad for treatment has now been reduced dramatically.

The report states that the emergence of proton beam clinic in the UK can play an important role helping address the cancer treatment backlog created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

First of its kind

Prof Karol Sikora

Prof Karol Sikora, chief medical officer at Rutherford Health plc, which published the report, said: ‘This report is the first of its kind addressing the UK’s progress in the provision of proton beam therapy. 

‘We were one of the last European countries to establish an operational proton therapy service, but now it’s immensely heartening to demonstrate how far we have come as a nation in such a short space of time.

‘The gap between provision of proton beam therapy in the UK and European counterparts is closing and there is still scope for more service provision in the UK through the creation of more facilities and the further widening of indications suitable for proton treatment. However, we have made great strides across the public and independent healthcare sectors.’

Prof Sikora reaffirmed that proton beam therapy should not be regarded as a panacea for all cancer, but it has been proven to be an excellent treatment for a particular range of cancers and offers patients the prospect of living a good quality of life with little to no side-effects. 

Patients should always be assessed through a dual planning process which determines whether proton beam or conventional radiotherapy would be the optimum treatment.

Innovation dividend

The report highlights that the UK is set to reap an ‘innovation dividend’ through the creation of a better skilled workforce including radiographers and physicists spread across the regions of the UK. This ultimately benefited patients who find treatment is available closer to home. 

Mike Moran, chief executive officer of Rutherford Health, commented: ‘The establishment of a proton beam therapy service in the UK is creating a new highly skilled workforce – both public and independent – which will be sustained in the future through more skills development, training and partnership working between those involved in healthcare delivery.  

‘As a country, we are heading in the right direction and can make even greater strides in future. The UK is now a contributor to thought leadership on proton beam therapy globally due to the innovation and research that has been developed over the last five years by providers of proton beam therapy within the UK.’