"As it currently stands, patients with prostate cancer make up around 80 per cent of those being treated at most proton therapy centres in the USA and Europe"
Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar
A UK grandfather diagnosed with prostate cancer has praised the 'proton beam therapy' treatment he received as “humanity in healthcare at its very best”.
The man, called John but who does not wish to be identified further, was diagnosed with low level prostate cancer earlier this year and put on active surveillance - where NHS doctors simly monitor the tumour for signs of further growth.
But following a second biopsy it became clear his cancer was developing and becoming much more of a risk.
John, 67, looked at the options available to him - including surgery, external beam radiation therapy, and proton beam therapy.
And having consulted with Proton Therapy UK - the Southampton-based arm of the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic - he explained: “The only therapy that seemed to have minimal or no side effects for the vast majority of men treated was pencil beam proton therapy.
“I had been treated with great kindness by the NHS but proton therapy for prostate cancer was not an approved intervention and was therefore not an NHS funded option.”
As proton therapy is not currently available in the UK, John looked to Europe instead and agreed to pay privately.
He said: “I read about two men who knew each other, one of whom was treated with a more common therapy and another with proton therapy radiation.
“The comment that, in terms of quality of life, the former was ‘surviving’ and the latter was ‘living’ was particularly significant for me as I considered my options.”
After sending scans and NHS records to confirm he was suitable for treatment at the Proton Therapy Center, John started hormone therapy to lower his PSA levels.
He then visited Prague for a consultation and to prepare for his treatment, which started in August this year.
He underwent 21 'fractions', or sessions, over the space of one month.
John said: “The treatment I received was very easy. I had a mould taken of my abdomen and markers placed on my hips so that when I received protons I would always have them directed to the same place.
“Then the mould of your abdomen is clipped on to ensure you don't move whilst the protons are being directed into your prostate area.
“An overhead device is pulled along a track which contains a black square X ray device. Various whistles and bleeps can be heard.
“These things are not difficult at all. The mould does not cause discomfort, the staff are unfailingly pleasant, and everything is done professionally.
“The whole business only takes a few minutes. It doesn't hurt in the slightest.
“For most men there are few or no side effects. Owing to the amount of exercise that I had, exploring the streets, squares and hidden corners of old Prague I actually felt fitter at the end of my treatment than at the beginning.”
John has praised the level of treatment at the centre, which opened in 2012. Here in the UK, Consultant Clinical Oncologist Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar is the Medical Director of Proton Therapy UK and he's based at University Hospital Southampton.
Dr Ramkumar said: “As it currently stands, patients with prostate cancer make up around 80 per cent of those being treated at most proton therapy centres in the USA and Europe.
“But there is great scope to use proton therapy in the treatment of other complex cancers, such as skull-base tumours and head and neck cancers”.