Medical Technology

Proton beam therapy: more than a leap of faith?

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.e4917 (Published 5 September 2012)
Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e4917

Get access to this article and all of bmj.com for the next 14 days

Sign up for a 14 day free trial today

Access to the full text of this article requires a subscription or payment. Please log in or subscribe below.

  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. jgornall{at}mac.com

Proton beam therapy continues to hotly divide medical opinion. As the UK steps up its investment as part of reforms to cancer treatment, Jonathan Gornall talks to experts around the world about the strengths and limitations of this controversial therapy

On Sunday 17 June a group of almost 20 children and their parents gathered at London Zoo. To the casual observer it could have been a birthday party, but it was a special day for every one of these children, who ranged in age from 18 months to 5 years.

This was a reunion of some of the 160 NHS cancer patients who have been sent overseas since 2008 for proton beam therapy. The treatment has divided medical opinion in the UK since the announcement in April that the Department of Health was to spend £250m (€318m; $394m) building two treatment centres in England, at the Christie Hospital in Manchester and University College Hospital in London.1

All the children at the zoo had been treated at the ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City, one of three centres (two in the United States and one in Switzerland) to which the NHS sends patients. In the past year, ProCure has treated 30 patients referred by the NHS.

Among them was Thomas Adams who, in January last year, at the age of 18 months, was found to have an anaplastic ependymoma, a rare and aggressive brain tumour. He had surgery at Alder Hey, followed by chemotherapy, but a scan three months later showed the tumour had returned. This time his parents were presented with another option: more surgery, followed by proton beam therapy.

Both Thomas’s parents are hospital doctors in Liverpool—he’s a registrar in obstetrics and gynaecology, she’s in genitourinary medicine—but before Thomas became ill they, like most people, knew little …

Get access to this article and all of bmj.com for the next 14 days

Sign up for a 14 day free trial today

Access to the full text of this article requires a subscription or payment. Please log in or subscribe below.

Article access

Article access for 1 day

Purchase this article for £20 $30 €32*

The PDF version can be downloaded as your personal record

* Prices do not include VAT

THIS WEEK'S POLL