Proton Beam Therapy

Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of external radiotherapy that uses high-energy proton beams rather than photon x-ray beams or electrons.

Rutherford Health plc were the first in the UK to invest in and deliver proton beam therapy for cancer patients at the Rutherford Cancer Centres.

The Rutherford Cancer Centres use the latest IBA ProteusONE machines to deliver proton beam therapy to patients. The state-of-the-art ProteusONE machine utilises pencil beam scanning, an advanced technique that allows doses of radiation to be delivered precisely to the size and shape of the treatment area, in combination with the robotic patient-positioning couch and the most up-to-date imaging capabilities.

This ensures that the delivery of proton beam therapy is accurate and prevents the risk of radiation reaching surrounding healthy tissue. Each treatment plan is tailored uniquely to the patient and delivered by a highly skilled team of therapy radiographers, physicists and dosimetrists, in conjunction with consultant oncologists.

Proton beam therapy is currently available at the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales and will be available from the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East from Spring 2019 and the Rutherford Cancer Centre Thames Valley from Autumn 2019.

How does proton beam therapy work?

Proton beam therapy uses beams of protons to shrink tumours. Protons are small particles of an atom and a 'particle accelerator' (cyclotron) is used to speed up the protons to produce the beam. The latest form of proton beam therapy is called intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT) with pencil beam scanning, an advanced technique that allows each dose to be precisely targeted.

The proton beam's ability to be specifically targeted during treatment allows for harder to reach tumours to be treated, as well as tumours that are in sensitive locations such as near the spine, in the brain or affecting vital organs. The proton beam can be specifically targeted to a particular treatment site and the beam made to 'stop' before affecting surrounding healthy cells.

The individual sessions for proton beam therapy, referred to as 'fractions', can take between 15 to 45 minutes, however, only a few minutes of this time is dedicated to the delivery of the proton beam therapy. The majority of the time is spent ensuring patients are made comfortable on the robotic positioning couch, with cushions and braces where necessary, to prevent any movement while the treatment takes place.

Side effects are significantly lower when undergoing proton beam therapy treatment. During treatment sessions, any side effects will be closely monitored by the therapy radiographers and treatment team, who will also provide any advice or guidance to patients during appointments.

Proton beam therapy is not always a standalone treatment and can be used alongside other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy for example.

Proton beam therapy is not a panacea for all types of cancer, however, there are more than 90,000 cancer patients in the UK every year who are treated with radical radiotherapy. Rutherford Health plc believes around 10% of patients treated with radical radiotherapy - the figure accepted at European level - could be better treated with proton beam therapy.