A new form of radiotherapy — high energy proton beam therapy — has been used for the first time in the UK.
The treatment was given to a pioneering unnamed prostate cancer patient at the new Rutherford Cancer Centre in Newport, South Wales. The centre is operated by Proton Partners International, a private company.
Within three years, the UK is expected to have at least six proton beam centres, two in the National Health Service and four run by Proton Partners for both private and NHS patients. Until now, British cancer patients have had to travel abroad to receive proton therapy at clinics in the US and elsewhere in Europe.
The beams deliver radiation in the form of protons — hydrogen nuclei — which can be targeted more accurately at tumours than the X-rays used to destroy cancer cells in conventional radiotherapy.
Proton Partners has estimated that about 9,000 of the 150,000 cancer patients who receive radiotherapy every year in the UK “would have a better outcome” if they were treated with proton beams, said Mike Moran, chief executive of the Cardiff-based company.
The company’s centres will have a capacity of about 500 patients a year, and each centre will cost about £35m to get fully operational. The proton generating equipment — made by a Belgian company, Ion Beam Applications — accounts for about half of the required investment.
A second centre will open by the end of this year in Bomarsund, Northumberland. It will be followed by others in Reading, Liverpool and London. The company’s long-term aim is to build eight centres in the UK, all branded as Rutherford Cancer Centres.
The NHS is also building higher capacity proton beam centres at the Christie Hospital in Manchester and University College London Hospital, where work is scheduled to begin by the end of 2018 and 2020, respectively.