Work starts at UK’s first NHS high energy proton beam therapy centre

Press Release Posted 28 July 2015

Proton beam therapy is a specialist form of radiotherapy that targets certain cancers very precisely, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects. It targets tumours with less damage to surrounding healthy tissue and is particularly appropriate for certain cancers in children who are at risk of lasting damage to organs that are still growing.

It can be particularly effective for treating cancers in areas where the cancer has developed near a place in the body where damage could cause serious complications such as the optic nerve, the spine or the brain.

Lucy Thomas, 9 years old from Ramsbottom, and Andrea Seal, 40 yrs old from Middleton, are Christie patients, and have both received proton beam therapy overseas in the USA.

And this week, they officially 'broke the ground' at the site of The Christie proton beam therapy centre as work starts to build the£125m centre. The centre is expected to open in 2018.

Lucy was just six years old when her family was given the devastating news she had cancer.

Because of the type of cancer she had, a rare type of muscle cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma, Lucy's best option was to have proton beam therapy, advanced form of radiotherapy not currently available in the UK.

As part of the NHS Proton Overseas Programme, Lucy, her parents Stuart and Caroline, and her brother Owen, travelled almost 4.500 miles from their home in Ramsbottom to Oklahoma in the USA for Lucy to have the high-tech treatment that would give her the best possible clinical outcome.

Lucy's cancer story started in 2012 when she had been feeling unwell for several weeks and her parents took her to see their GP several times.

It became clear that Lucy was not getting better from the original diagnosis of a virus and sinusitis and her parents took her to the local A&E department when they saw an unusual growth in her nose.

Lucy was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with cancer. After surgery and chemotherapy, she was referred to The Christie for follow up treatment including radiotherapy.

As part of her treatment, Lucy spent almost 11 weeks in Oklahoma receiving proton beam therapy.

Dad Stuart says: "Although we received excellent care and treatment abroad, it would have been easier if it had been available in the UK. We felt cut off from our extended family and close friends just when we needed them the most."

"Owen missed around eight weeks of school whilst we were out there, so having to go to America for the proton beam therapy really hit us all."

Stuart adds: "The main benefit of having proton beam therapy in the UK is that it will be much more accessible. In our case, Lucy's extended family would havebeen able to help support her though the treatment."

Mum Caroline adds: "It's absolutely fantastic to know that proton beam therapy is finally coming to the UK, and particularly Manchester. It will give more children like Lucy the opportunity to have this form of treatment."

Andrea Seal, a mother of four, from Middleton was diagnosed in 2012 with Chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that has affected cartilage in her skull. She travelled to Oklahoma for proton beam therapy treatment with her husband Chris in May 2012 for nine weeks.

Andrea, a sales assistant says: "While I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have this lifesaving treatment, and I knew it would give me the chance to see my children grow up, it was really difficult leaving them. I desperately missed them while I was abroad having proton beam therapy. It's wonderful to know we will soon have this groundbreaking treatment available in Manchester where families can stay together and support each other."

Currently the NHS has to send children and adults needing proton beam therapy abroad to the United States and Switzerland, but from 2018, two centres at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and UCLH (University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust) will offer the treatment.

The Government has invested £250m into building and equipping the two NHS centres.

Chief Executive of The Christie, Roger Spencer, said: "To be able to offer the world's most advanced form of radiotherapy through the NHS in the UK is a real step change for patients ensuring they benefit from local access to this advanced form of treatment, with potentially better outcomes and less chance of long term side effects."

Over the last century, The Christie radiotherapy department has pioneered many advances in radiotherapy. It already leads in advanced radiotherapy, delivering more complex treatments than any other centre in the country. The introduction of proton beam therapy will allow it to continue to make advances in this area and improve patient treatment and care.

The Christie proton beam therapy centre will treat up to 750 patients per year at full capacity.

While The Christie and UCLH centres are being built, all clinically appropriate NHS patients will continue to be funded to go overseas for treatment with NHS England's established partner centres.

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