A pioneering new type of cancer treatment is now available for the first time in Shinfield, and will begin treating its first patients in two weeks.
The Rutherford Cancer Centre in the new Thames Valley Science Park launched its proton beam therapy facility on Monday, the first of its kind in the South East, to improve cancer care in the region.
Proton beam therapy is a form of radiotherapy. It delivers heavily charged protons in a more targeted manner to reduce damage to nearby tissues and organs, and so reduces the unwelcome side effects.
Just over a year ago, there were no such facilities in the UK, meaning patients who needed precise radiotherapy usually went abroad.
Former proton beam patient 58-year-old Timon Colegrove now speaks about the lesser-known benefits of this up-and-coming type of therapy, after being treated at the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Wales. He had no symptoms of prostate cancer, but was diagnosed through a routine blood test.
He said: “Finding out I had prostate cancer was the most distressing, frightening experience of my life, especially the surrealness of it all, because I was feeling fit and well.”
He said he was offered one of two options to remove the cancer: a prostatectomy, or conventional radiotherapy. Both carry a 40% chance of impotence and incontinence.
When he discovered proton beam therapy through his own research, Mr Colgrove signed himself up and was cleared of cancer after a few weeks.
“I just stumbled across it, and that’s why I’m passionate about trying to spread the word, and get people to know there is a choice,” he said.
“Awareness of this treatment is spreading and that awareness is of such a bright positive nature. I have a passion for spreading the word that there is an alternative type of treatment which has no side-effects, and that is just such a blessing.”
Mr Colgrove also explained the therapy is not overpriced for what you get. “We’re talking about the price of a family car here,” he added.
The centre also aims to decrease stress for any patients by making sure the treatment does not disrupt their lives, offering everything from aromatherapy and massages to signposting where patients can find financial advice.
Centre manager Laura Geer said: “We offer a patient-centric pathway, meaning everything we do is about the patient and putting the patient first.
“But, not only do we look after them but we look after the relatives too. Maybe they need help with counselling, and we offer that service.”
The location of the centre also means the experience is a little less exhausting. As it is just 25 minutes away from London and the South East has such a large population, it is easily accessible to plenty of people.
“It means people don’t have to travel afar to receive cancer treatment, and your loved ones can be near you. It’s so important to have the support of your friends and family during this time,” Ms Geer explained.
The treatment itself takes less than an hour. Ms Geer explained a pencil beam then comes through at a millimetre diameter and does a 3D print on the tumour.
“It doesn’t interrupt their lives too much – they can come in and have the treatment, and go back home or to work after,” she added. “Demand for advanced cancer treatments such as proton beam therapy will continue to grow and we are certain that the Thames Valley centre will go a long way in enabling patients to receive the treatments they need much closer to home.”
At the moment, the centre is for private healthcare and self-funded patients, but it is hoping to secure some NHS contracts soon.
But this form of therapy is only available for patients who have stage one cancer, the earliest form, before it can spread to other organs.
Rutherford Health Plc’s chief medical officer Professor Karol Sikora said: “UK cancer care has made major strides over the past year thanks to a complementary mix of private and public facilities but rising demand for precision radiotherapy means that there is still some way to go.
“With change in healthcare, there’s always difficulty in access, but for some people it is a postcode lottery.
“Based on treatment rates in other advanced European countries, the UK may need approximately 18 proton beam therapy facilities in the years to come.”
Each Rutherford Cancer Centre also provides imaging, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and immunotherapy. There is another centre under construction in Liverpool, in addition to the current centres in Shinfield, Northumberland and Wales, and an NHS centre in Manchester.