Proton Beam Therapy coming to UCLH 

05/04/2012 00:00 

UCLH will offer the world’s most advanced form of radiotherapy after the government today announced up to £250 million of funding to bring Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) to the UK.

Artist's impression of how the UCLH PBT Centre will look

Artist's impression of how the UCLH Proton Beam Therapy Centre will look. Picture courtesy of Scott Tallon Walker

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (UCLH) will be one of two sites delivering PBT across the NHS from 2017.

Proton Beam Therapy is a type of radiotherapy, which uses a precision high-energy beam of particles to destroy cancer cells. The treatment is particularly suitable for complex childhood cancers, increasing success rates and reducing side-effects, such as deafness, loss of IQ and secondary cancers. It can also used to treat brain cancers, head and neck cancers and sarcomas.  There are currently no high-energy Proton Beam Therapy facilities in England, and patients who require the treatment have to be sent abroad.

The joint proposal with The Christie Hospital in Manchester, will offer the first PBT service in the UK, allowing unparalleled access for patients and their families from all over the UK. Around 1,500 patients will be treated with Proton Beam Therapy, every year.

Sir Robert Naylor, UCLH chief executive, said “This partnership has the potential to make a significant difference to the lives of hundreds of patients every year, particularly children and teenagers.  It provides an opportunity for the NHS to become a world-leader in paediatric radiotherapy, and gain an international profile in many complex adult cancers.”

The UCLH service will be delivered from the Trust’s campus in the heart of the capital where it enjoys a close collaboration with UCL on groundbreaking research projects. The site has direct access to the Trust’s existing radiotherapy department and will be a stone’s throw from the new University College Hospital Macmilan Cancer Centre which opened only this week (April 2). The proposal was developed with the support of the UCLH Charity.

Artists impression of how the courtyard will look. Picture courtesy of Scott Tallon Walker

The UK service will bring together some of the world’s leading specialists in complex cancers.  Together, the Christie and UCLH will see more children and teenagers with cancer than almost any other centre in the world, and more adults with brain cancers than any other centre in the UK. The two trusts will also be able to drive forward research into what remains a relatively new treatment.

Dr Yen-Ch’ing Chang, UCLH lead on Proton Beam Therapy, added: "Proton beam therapy’s main advantage is that less normal tissue is irradiated. This is a particular advantage in children and young adults. Irradiating healthy tissues in children and teenagers can result in significant long term effects, such as problems with growth, IQ, development through puberty, hormone deficiencies, fertility, as well as an increased risk of the development of a second cancer. 

Proton beam therapy significantly reduces the chance of such side effects occurring.

“Cancer patients who might benefit from proton beam therapy include children and teenagers, as well as some adults with complex tumours of the brain, bone and soft tissues."

Katie Swain, whose daughter Matilda was referred from UCLH to Jacksonville, Florida, for PBT said it would have made a big difference if she had been treated in London.

“It would take the pressure off parents and enable children to carry on with a normal school life and have the support of their friends and family close by,” said Ms Swain.

Matilda Penfold-Swain and her sister Georgia

Matilda, 5, went to America to be treated for retinoblastoma – cancer of the eye. Ms Swain was full of praise for PBT. She said: “The radiation would have gone into her brain if she had been treated with conventional radiotherapy. It might have affected her IQ or caused additional tumours. The more you can minimise the exposure to radiation the lower the risk of there being further problems.”

Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, said: “Developing a national proton beam therapy service is vital to ensuring our cancer facilities are world class. We have always said that it is patient outcomes which matter, and to get the best for patients we must always be looking to push the boundaries.

“In addition to improved success rates proton beam therapy reduces the side-effects which patients, particularly children, can suffer as a result of traditional forms of cancer treatment. 

“Once this service is in place, The Christie and UCLH will boast unparalleled cancer facilities. It will mean more patients will be able to get this treatment, including those for whom travelling abroad for long periods is not possible.”

If you have any enquiries regarding PBT at UCLH, please email


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