A cancer diagnosis can be a life-changing event in someone’s life, especially for the patient but also their family and closest friends can feel the effects. Unfortunately, recent cancer statistics in the UK suggest that up to one in two people face a cancer diagnosis in their life, with 1000 people receiving a new diagnosis every day. This is an incredible amount of cancer patients needing treatments, therapies and support and is seen to be having a huge effect on the ability of public health services, with as many as a quarter of patients starting their treatment late as a result.
Luckily, all hope is not lost and while public health services could certainly stand for an increase in budget and availability of new specialist consultants, there are potential treatments that could speed up the process of treating cancer for patients and relieve the stress many cancer treatment centres are facing. This solution: proton beam therapy.
What Is Proton Beam Therapy?
Proton beam therapy is a type of external radiotherapy treatment that sees patients receive doses of radiation in order to interrupt the internal processes of cancer cells, destroying their ability to grow and duplicate and eventually leading to the death of the cell. Proton beam therapy in the UK is delivered via a proton therapy machine which is made up of a cyclotron, gantry and control centre. Proton particles are sped up to two-thirds of the speed of light in the cyclotron before having their energy levels manipulated to a certain penetrative depth before firing from the gantry into the patient, the process is overseen and controlled by specialist technicians from the control centre.
Proton beam therapy differs to traditional radiotherapy by charging the protons to a level in which they only penetrate to certain depths within the patient. Combined with pencil scanning capabilities, the tumour is accurately ‘painted’ with the proton beam, reducing the amount of radiation that enters the surrounding healthy cells which in turn lessons the intensity of side effects experienced by the patient. The gantry comes in two orientations, a 360-degree machine that rotates around the patient in a 3D space, ensuring the patient remains still and in place during the treatment delivery, or as a fixed gantry with a moveable patient bed that adjusts as the proton beam fires.
How Can Proton Beam Therapy Assist in Patient Waiting Times?
Proton beam therapy is a relatively new treatment, first explored in the 1970s, yet has come along leaps and bounds in recent years as modern technology becomes cheaper and more compact. Where previously, proton beam therapy machines would take up entire hospital wings and cost huge amounts of money to even turn on, let alone run constantly, the cost implications are drastically lower these days making it a more efficient patient treatment.
Due to the accuracy of proton beam delivery, individual treatments take much less time to deliver with much of the time used to ensure the comfort and stability of the patient for receiving treatment. It also allows for treatments to be upped in strength with considerably less risk to the patient and the healthy, non-cancerous tissue that surrounds tumours.
In theory, this would see more patients treated in a shorter window and having to return for a lower number of treatments, which would have an incredible impact on the high consultant to patient ratio numbers currently seen in public health care.
Are There Are Cons to Using Proton Beam Therapy?
Proton beam therapy isn’t to be considered a better type of treatment, simply a more efficient treatment for certain types of cancers, particularly those that endanger major systems like the brain and respiratory system and cancers that occur in young children.
The biggest downside to making proton beam therapy more readily available comes down to cost. With only one high energy proton beam machine available via public health services and another one planned, the best way for a patient to currently explore proton beam therapy as a treatment is through private cancer centres. Hopefully, with more support in the future, proton beam therapy will be a more cost-effective treatment option that reduces waiting times and helps patients live care-free lives after receiving their cancer free result.