A 15-year-old boy with a rare type of brain cancer is set to undergo proton beam therapy (PBT) at a new dedicated treatment centre at Manchester’s Christie hospital – one of the very first NHS UK patients to undergo treatment of this kind.
The radiotherapy technique targets cancers without damaging the tissue surrounding the tumours, the BBC reports. This is especially important for children who are at risk of permanent damage to their organs when having treatment, since they’re still growing – but before now, UK patients had to go abroad for this kind of therapy.
Mason Kettley, 15, received his diagnosis in October last year, with an MRI scan revealing that he had a rare pilomyxoid astrocytoma brain tumour that couldn’t be operated on because of risk of blindness and other complications.
The Manchester-based centre opened in autumn 2018, with a second centre set to open at London’s University College Hospital in 2020. The hope is that each centre will be able to treat up to 750 patients each year.
In charge of Mason’s care is oncologist Gillian Whitfield, who told the news source: “For Mason, in comparison to conventional radiotherapy, PBT should carry a lower risk of some important long-term side-effects of treatment – particularly effects on short-term memory and learning ability – and the risk over the next eight decades of the radiation causing other tumours.
“This is particularly important for children and teenagers with curable tumours, who will survive decades after treatment and are at much greater risk of serious long-term effects of treatment than adults.”
PBT uses a beam of high energy protons (small parts of atoms) instead of high energy x-rays (known as photons) to treat certain kinds of cancer. Doses of these protons can be precisely targeted at tumours so damage to surrounding healthy tissue is reduced. It can also help to protect critical parts of the body, like the spinal cord, if the cancer is found in such a location.
It is only suitable for some cancers, however, such as complex head, brain and neck cancers, and sarcomas, as it doesn’t result in better outcomes for many cases than using high energy x-rays – still the most appropriate and effective treatment for the majority of cancers.
The procedure is painless, like high energy x-ray radiotherapy, but side-effects may present themselves similar to those seen with other forms of radiotherapy.
Before starting PBT, patients will have to attend an assessment and planning visit at one of the specific centres, with treatment starting around two weeks later. Treatment takes place over five days for six weeks, with each daily dose taking up to an hour.
Accommodation will be provided for patients and carers coming to the Christie centre from outside the immediate vicinity (one hour’s travel time), although individual circumstances will be taken into consideration.
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