A groundbreaking study has revealed that cancer patients are at significantly lower risk of experiencing unwanted side effects when treated with proton beam therapy compared with conventional radiation therapy.
The study by the University of Pennsylvania - the first of its kind - evaluated data on 1483 patients, 391 of whom received proton beam therapy and 1092 who received photon (conventional radiation) treatment. Careful analysis of both patient groups revealed that the risk of side effects from toxicity to the body was two-thirds lower for proton beam therapy patients compared to conventional radiation therapies. Researchers leading the study also highlighted that overall survival rates were similar in both groups, indicating the reduced toxicity with proton beam therapy did not come at the cost of effectiveness.
Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer of Proton Partners International, which operates the Rutherford Cancer Centres, said: “This is a very significant study that adds to the growing body of evidence on the benefits of proton beam therapy. There has been a tremendous breakthrough in the UK over the past year in the provision of PBT facilities.
"At our own centres we have seen first-hand patients coming in for treatment with very little disruption to their daily lives. The most striking aspect about the treatment of these patients is how well they feel during and after treatment and the reduction in side effects gives them confidence that their cancer can be treated successfully.
"The more research data we have on PBT the better and this study is a milestone moment. Although PBT is not a panacea for all cancers, it can be very effective while being less toxic and this is proving an attractive form of treatment for patients.”
Unlike conventional radiotherapy which delivers X-ray beams to attack a tumour site and leaves radiation deposits in surrounding tissues, proton beam therapy delivers heavily charged protons in a more targeted manner that can be controlled to stop at a defined point in the body, thereby reducing damage to peripheral tissue and organs.
While researchers say more study is needed, they stress that this is the largest and most significant study conducted to date on the effectiveness of proton beam therapy in reducing unwanted side effects for cancer patients.
The study comes as the UK saw the unveiling of its third proton beam therapy facility in Northumberland this week, marking a remarkable turnaround for UK cancer care which has gone from lagging behind European and North American countries when it comes to proton beam therapy provision to being at the forefront.
The Northumberland centre – called the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East, has started assessing patients for PBT and will begin treatment within weeks. Its sister centre, in Newport, South Wales, was the first to treat patients with proton beam therapy in the UK and the NHS opened its own clinic at the Christie in Manchester last year.
The Rutherford Cancer Centres already have a relationship with the University of Pennsylvania, who advise the centres on patient screening for proton beam therapy. Proton Partners International hopes to make proton beam therapy available within a 90-minute drive of at least 75% of the population. They currently run three fully operational centres, the third – the Rutherford Cancer Centre Thames Valley in Reading – will begin treating patients with proton beam therapy later in the year. A fourth centre is currently under construction in Liverpool.