NHS hospitals invited to bid to provide advanced form of radiotherapy

In collaboration with the Press Association

The Department of Health has invited NHS hospitals to bid to provide an advanced form of radiotherapy that could improve the accuracy and reduce the side-effects of cancer treatment.

Proton Beam Therapy uses a beam of particles called protons to precisely target the cancer and deliver treatment more accurately.

Because it is easier to target and control, the technique is potentially less harmful to vital organs, making it a better option than conventional radiotherapy for some patients.

These include people with certain types of cancer - for example in the retina of the eye, the base of the skull and near the spine - all of whom face a high risk of side-effects from conventional radiotherapy as a result of their tumour's proximity to vital organs.

At present, just 100 to 130 patients per year can be treated with proton therapy at the only existing UK facility in Clatterbridge, and the facility is limited to patients with certain types of eye tumours.

Many people who would benefit from the treatment have to travel overseas.

Health minister Ann Keen confirmed that she has asked the National Specialised Commissioning Team (NSCT) to invite bids in England so that possible providers of the service can be identified.

Ms Keen commented: "We want to make sure that cancer services in the England are world class and that NHS patients receive the best quality treatment.

"This is significant news for patients with rare cancers, especially children, as having Proton Beam Therapy will mean that they will receive a better quality of treatment and will not suffer from potential side-effects such as hearing loss and reduced IQ."

The minister added that it is also good news for scientists as the move will keep the UK "at the forefront of new technologies and science".

Dr Adrian Crellin, chairman of the National Commissioning Group for Proton Therapy, said that he is "delighted" by the government's announcement.

"Proton Beam Therapy is a much safer way of treating specific types of cancer that occur in the retina, skull and spine without damaging vital organs," he explained.

However, Dr Crellin noted: "It is important to remember that proton therapy is necessary for less than one per cent of patients and modern conventional radiotherapy continues to be the most effective and best treatment for the majority."

Martin Ledwick, head of Cancer Research UK's information nurses, commented: "It is good to see the Department of Health encouraging the development of different forms of radiotherapy.

"Although, at the moment, the number of people this treatment is likely to help is quite small, it is possible that as we learn more about it, proton therapy may have the potential to have a bigger impact on cancer treatment."