Treating cancer with advanced proton therapy
Radiotherapy Proton therapy is a rapidly expanding area with more than 50 centres in the world currently treating patients.
“Around 160,000 people have been treated worldwide with proton therapy. The number of centres offering the treatment is set to reach around 120 by 2020,” says Karol Sikora, Chief Medical Officer for Proton Partners International.
Proton therapy uses similar radiation to conventional radiotherapy. The difference is the precision of the protons. By choosing the appropriate energy, a proton beam can be tuned to deliver the maximum dose to the tumour with a far less dose going to healthy tissue in front of the tumour and no dose at all to healthy tissue behind the tumour.
“Around 45% of cancer patients get radiation therapy in the UK, and a portion of these patients would almost certainly be better treated with proton therapy.
“Recent studies from several European countries suggest a 10-15% utilisation of protons in patients treated with radical radiotherapy. That would require 20 treatment rooms in Britain.”
“With conventional radiotherapy, the radiation beam goes through the whole body. It irradiates the healthy tissue around the tumour, which can seriously damage it,” says Sikora.
“Proton therapy has the potential to reduce serious, adverse side effects and reduce the risk of secondary cancers caused by radiation.
“You don’t get the long-term toxicity of radiation to critical tissues. Studies have shown it can reduce the risk of damage to the nerves, lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys, which can be harmed by conventional radiotherapy.”
Partnership with IBA
There are currently no centres treating patients with high energy proton therapy in the UK, which means British patients have to travel to other countries to benefit from this state-of-the-art treatment.
In collaboration with IBA Proton Therapy, the market leader in proton therapy, Proton Partners International is currently building five centres in different locations across the country to provide easy access to patients.
“Currently, patients have to travel to the US or to other European countries where the therapy is offered. A lot of patients don’t want to travel that far and since the therapy is spread out over 30 days on average, this means that they’d have to relocate to another country for a month,” says Sikora.
“This can be very expensive and since they’re far away from their families – which can cause them great stress at a difficult time – it’s by far preferable to have the therapy closer to home.
“Having those centres in the UK will make a big difference to patients. It will also make a difference to the doctors, who may refer more patients to this therapy when it’s available in their own country.
“We’re building one centre in Abu Dhabi and one in Dublin. But, the UK will have the most spectacular growth because, within three years, we will have built five centres across the country. The NHS is only building two centres.
“By 2020, the UK will have the highest number of centres in Europe.”
A wider use
While proton therapy was originally limited to the treatment of rare tumours and tumours in children, technical evolutions combined with advanced imaging techniques could open the way to a wider use of the therapy.
“We will be able to personalise the proton treatment plan and see if the normal tissue is better preserved by using protons,” continues Sikora.
“Patients with spinal cord tumours and brain tumours, especially children, where the normal tissue is very sensitive, can clearly benefit from proton therapy.
“Those with prostate, lung and left-sided breast cancer, all which have a critical organ in the way of the radiation, will also be considered for the therapy along with other options.
“Proton therapy is expanding because the price of the machines has come down, the machines are smaller, more reliable and easier to operate, and this means that interest in protons is growing dramatically.”
Our oncology centres in the UK, to be named The Rutherford Cancer Centres, will offer a comprehensive range of cancer treatments to patients (see Karol Sikora pictured next to the construction site of the centre).
The centres will also be the first to offer high energy proton beam therapy in the country. In addition to proton beam therapy, each centre will offer radiotherapy, chemotherapy, imaging and wellbeing services.
Proton Partners International has a network of research partners who will work together to contribute to the wider research effort in cancer care.