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A groundbreaking study has revealed that cancer patients are at significantly lower risk of experiencing unwanted side effects when treated with proton beam therapy compared with conventional radiation therapy.

The study by the University of Pennsylvania, the first of its kind, evaluated data on 1,483 patients, 391 of whom received proton beam therapy and 1,092 who received photon (conventional radiation) treatment. Careful analysis of both patient groups revealed that the risk of side effects from toxicity to the body was two-thirds lower for proton beam therapy patients compared to conventional radiation therapies. Researchers leading the study also highlighted that overall survival rates were similar in both groups, indicating the reduced toxicity with proton beam therapy did not come at the cost of effectiveness.

Professor Karol Sikora, chief medical officer of Proton Partners International which operates the Rutherford Cancer Centres, the largest network of proton beam therapy facilities in the UK and the world’s leading developer of proton therapy services, said: “This is a very significant study that adds to the growing body of evidence on the benefits of proton beam therapy. There has been a tremendous breakthrough in the UK over the past year in the provision of PBT facilities.

“At our own centres we have seen first-hand patients coming in for treatment with very little disruption to their daily lives. The most striking aspect about the treatment of these patients is how well they feel during and after treatment and the reduction in side effects gives them confidence that their cancer can be treated successfully. The more research data we have on PBT the better and this study is a milestone moment. Although PBT is not a panacea for all cancers, it can be very effective while being less toxic and this is proving an attractive form of treatment for patients.”

Unlike conventional radiotherapy which delivers X-ray beams to attack a tumour site and leaves radiation deposits in surrounding tissues, proton beam therapy delivers heavily charged protons in a more targeted manner that can be controlled to stop at a defined point in the body, thereby reducing damage to peripheral tissue and organs.

The study comes as the UK’s third proton beam therapy facility was opened in Northumberland this week; the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East.

The Northumberland centre has started assessing patients to begin PBT treatment. Its sister centre, in Newport, South Wales, was the first to treat patients with proton beam therapy in the UK, with another centre in Reading due to start treating patients with PBT later this year.

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