Proton beam therapy is a different type of radiotherapy. It uses a high energy beam of protons rather than high energy X-rays to deliver a dose of radiotherapy for patients with cancer. It works best on some very rare cancers including tumours affecting the base of skull or the spine. Proton beam treatment can be a more effective form of therapy because it directs the all-important radiation treatment to precisely where it is needed with minimal damage to surrounding tissue. The treatment is therefore particularly suitable to complex childhood cancers.
Currently there is a proton beam therapy centre in the UK delivering low energy proton therapy specifically for patients with eye tumours at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Foundation Trust. For patients who require proton therapy for more specific tumours they have been able to access treatment abroad since April 2008. A clinical panel reviews individual cases. If a patient’s consultant feels that proton beam therapy might be a suitable treatment for one of their patients, they submit a form to the panel. The panel will then decide whether the case is suitable for proton beam therapy and, if so, confirm back to the patient’s doctor that a referral overseas can be made, which will then by funded by the NHS. The referral is coordinated through the NHS Proton Overseas Programme.
Patients and their families need to be away from home for 8-10 weeks. The NHS will fund the patient’s travel and accommodation costs and some other costs.
How proton beam therapy works
Health Education England have developed a film in partnership with NHS England explaining how proton beam therapy works and what impact two state of the art centres in the UK will have on the service that the NHS provides:
The leaflets below give information about what patients and their families should expect when they have been referred for proton beam therapy. The policy gives information about precisely what the NHS funds in relation to travel and accommodation.
- Guide for families with children receiving Proton Beam Therapy abroad
- A guide for adult patients receiving Proton Beam Therapy abroad
- Clinical commissioning policy – funding policy for travel and accommodation proton overseas programme
Developing the UK proton beam therapy service
The government has committed £250 million towards developing high energy proton beam therapy services in the UK. Two facilities are currently being built at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust (Manchester) and University College London Hospital (UCLH) NHS Foundation Trust. Services are expected to commence from 2018 at The Christie and in 2020 from UCLH.
Both Trusts have more information about the new proton beam therapy centres on their websites. This includes information on the clinical facilities, their location and progress on construction. UCLH has a blog with updates and timelapse videos of the building work. The Christie also has regular updates as well as videos of the planned construction and access to livecams on site.
When they originally bid to host the NHS PBT service, both Trusts committed to charitable fundraising for the new facilities. Through their joint fundraising activities, UCLH and The Christie will be able to provide further enhanced facilities and services to NHS patients. The trusts aim to ensure they will be world-leading centres in delivering high-energy proton beam therapy.