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Proton beam cancer treatment to start in Manchester in 2018

From BBC - January 5, 2018

The first high-energy proton beam therapy centre run by the NHS is soon to open at the Christie Hospital in Manchester, allowing patients in the UK to access an important treatment for life-threatening cancers.

Proton beam therapy is a highly advanced way of treating cancers without damaging tissues around the tumours.

Currently, NHS patients who need this treatment had to travel abroad but after years of planning, the multi-million pound project is entering its final stages and patients should be able to access the new treatment from August 2018.

In the week before Christmas, builders were busy fixing cladding to the outside of what will eventually be a smart new building alongside one of the UK's leading centres for the treatment of cancer.

But it is inside, where medicine and physics meet, in the form of the high-energy proton beam, that a new cancer treatment will be offered.

New options for treatment

Paediatric cancer consultant Dr Ed Smith has been at the heart of the Christie project to bring the first treatment of this kind to an NHS hospital.

He is excited at the possibilities the new therapy opens up.

"Young patients would benefit most from this treatment because their tissues are growing and are very sensitive to radiation.

"But there are also tumours that sometimes sit next to quite critical structures in the body, say at the base of the skull or around the spine.

"And this technology enables us to give a treatment dose to those patients while avoiding these critical structures," he said.

It has been a huge undertaking, involving years of planning, preparation and fundraising and backed up by 250m of UK government money, to fund two centres, in Manchester and at London's University College Hospital.

How does proton beam therapy work?

With standard radiotherapy, a beam travels through the tumour, but can damage sensitive tissues in front, behind and around it.

But a proton beam is much smaller and stops at the tumour, causing less damage to otherwise healthy tissue.

The protons - which come from the heart of an atom - are generated in a particle accelerator known as a cyclotron.

Travelling at a speed of 100,000 miles per second, equivalent to two-thirds the speed of light, they are directed with pinpoint accuracy at the tumour.

A low-energy form of proton beam therapy is available in the UK at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in the Wirral, where it is used to treat rare cancers of the eye.

Travelling for treatment

'Really difficult'

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