It’s full beam ahead for proton therapy to treat rare tumours


The £380million hub, run by University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will help 650 people a year with cancer as well as tackle rare benign lumps.

Conventional radiotherapy uses high-powered X-rays that pass all the way through the body, damaging tumours and healthy tissue alike.

But proton beams deliver a far more accurate dose of radiation, minimising harm.

This makes it particularly useful for treating growths in sensitive areas such as the brain and the spinal cord, reducing side-effects while allowing higher doses to be used.

Four patients began treatment last month at the centre. It costs roughly £45,000 per course and the machine will also be used in clinical cancer trials. Researchers are recruiting people for a trial for throat cancer and are exploring another for left-sided breast cancer, where the traditional treatment irradiates the heart.

Proton beam therapy has been funded on the NHS since 2008.

But early patients had to go abroad for treatment, usually to northern Switzerland, Jacksonville in Florida or Essen in Germany.

Prof Adrian Crellin, who heads NHS England’s proton beam therapy programme, said: “Once UCLH has ramped up, we don’t see a need to send patients abroad and some too sick to go abroad can now be treated.” Jack Silberston, 16, of

Brighton, has a benign tumour on his spinal cord and is one of the first patients to be treated at the London proton beam centre.

Surgery at Christmas 2020 removed 90 per cent of the tumour but a scan in September revealed it had started to grow again.

However, sixth-former Jack said: “They say there is an 80 to 90 per cent chance the tumour won’t grow back after this.”

The UK’s first proton beam centre opened in Manchester in December 2018 and the new central London centre near Euston completes the national coverage.

The treatment hit the headlines in the autumn of 2014, when the parents of fiveyear-old Ashya King were arrested in Spain after removing their son from Southampton General Hospital. He was suffering with a cancerous brain tumour called medulloblastoma and surgeons removed it.

His doctors wanted to use chemotherapy and traditional radiotherapy the standard treatment to kill off any residual tumour cells and reduce the chance of the cancer returning.

But Ashya’s parents Brett and Naghmeh were worried about sideeffects, wanted him treated at a private clinic abroad and sprang him from the Southampton hospital.

A High Court judge in London later ordered that Ashya be released for the proton beam treatment in Prague.

The remedy which cost around £100,000 was paid for by donations.

It was successful and Ashya was later declared clear of cancer.

Today he is a healthy 11-year-old who attends school full-time and enjoys riding his bike and spending time with his brother and sister in Portsmouth.



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