Proton beam radiotherapy in the UK

Reports in the British media state that the UK’s Ministry of Health is committing to the broader availability of proton beam radiation therapy (PBRT) through the British National Health Service (NHS).

According to a report from BBC News yesterday, “Ministers in England have invited hospitals to bid to become the first national centre for proton therapy,” which “uses radiation to pinpoint cancerous cells without significantly damaging nearby tissue.” Currently, “there is … one unit in England, but it only treats the less complex eye cancers, forcing many patients to go abroad and fund the care themselves,” as the treatment “is available in the US and other European countries.”

The Guardian newspaper reported that Health Minister Ann Keen said the UK’s “government did not want the NHS to be seen to be lagging behind other countries,” and that “We want to make sure that cancer services in … England are world class and that NHS patients receive the best quality treatment.” The move is expected to benefit “scientists and academics who will ensure that the UK, with its current expertise, remains at the forefront of new technologies and science.”

Finally, the UK’s Telegraph stated that, “The Department of Health hopes that it will receive proposals for two large centres, one in the north of the country and one in the south, capable of eventually treating 1,500 patients a year in total.”

The “New” Prostate Cancer InfoLink finds these reports interesting since a UK medical advisor we spoke to some months ago, while the advisor was on a fact-finding trip to the USA to investigate the merits of PBRT, told us that he could see no specific merits to PBRT compared to other forms of treatment — especially given the added costs involved. And for those who argue that the British NHS provides lower quality care than the current American system, it would seem that the British are now willing to invest in technology like PBRT in the same way just as the US and some other countries do — regardless of the fact that the value of this technology has not been substantiated by any well-established clinical outcomes data. So much for the logical application of cost-based clinical decision making — whether you are for it or against it!

4 Responses

  1. It isn’t clear from what is posted here whether the British are talking about PBT for prostate cancer. It may be easier to make a case for other applications, like certain nervous system tumors.

  2. Herb:

    You are quite correct … The British government has, in fact, carefully positioned this development as being an important step for patients such as children and adults with rare forms of cancer.

    HOWEVER … My strong suspicion is that once the equipment is available, we will see enormous pressure exerted to use PBRT for prostate cancer in ther UK, just as we have in the US.

  3. Well, it will surely be interesting to see what they do in that regard. When we get into the off-the-beaten-track therapies like PBT, the lines seem to get blurred as to what might legitimately be called research vs clinical practice. Perhaps, if the British are interested in committing public money to worthwhile research, they will approach PBT for PCa in that manner.

  4. Herb: Your optimism is commendable!


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