Publish date: 21 February 2024

A cancer treatment that is currently available to only a limited number of UK patients is to be tested at UCLH in a countrywide clinical trial to see if it causes fewer long-term side effects than standard radiotherapy.

The brain cancer trial, which is now recruiting patients in London, Leeds, Manchester, Oxford and Kent, will determine whether an expensive and only recently available radiation technology – proton beam therapy (PBT) – can reduce the long-term side effects of radiotherapy and improve quality of life of patients compared with photon radiotherapy, the current standard treatment used globally.

PBT uses a beam of a highly charged proton particles that are found inside every atom in the body to destroy cancer cells. It does this by releasing a powerful burst of energy at the tumour site and delivers less radiation to the surrounding normal tissues.

The clinical trial, called APPROACH, funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and led by the University of Leeds, is open to patients with a type of brain cancer called oligodendroglioma that is diagnosed in about 350 UK patients per year. APPROACH stands for Analysis of Proton vs Photon Radiotherapy in Oligodendroglioma and Assessment of Cognitive Health.

At UCLH the trial will be led by neuro-oncology clinical oncologists Dr Naomi Fersht and Dr Michael Kosmin.

Dr Fersht said: “We are keen to begin this important trial and hope to be able to show that the use of proton beam therapy can minimise some of the side effects of radiotherapy for adult brain cancer patients. APPROACH is an example of the type of research we are now able to invite UK patients to participate in, working in collaboration with our partners nationally.”

The trial is one of several PBT trials being delivered at UCLH, supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at UCLH.

UCLH is one of two national NHS centres delivering proton beam therapy, along with The Christie in Manchester. PBT is a specialist form of radiotherapy suitable for certain tumours. The high-energy proton beam targets tumours very precisely, reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue. 

Since our PBT centre opened in December 2021, we have treated over 400 patients with PBT. Once it is fully up and running, the PBT centre at UCLH will be able to treat up to 650 NHS patients per year from across the south of the UK.

Find out more about PBT at UCLH.