MORE and more Brits are paying for private cancer treatment abroad – with the number of patients doubling in two years, new stats show.
That’s according to the private Proton Therapy Center
(PTC) in Prague, Czech Republic, the facility which famously treated UK toddler Ashya King in 2014.
In 2016, the PTC treated 21 patients from the UK and Ireland.
But by the end of last year, they’d treated 38 patients – what they say represents a major increase in traffic from Britain.
And despite a new NHS cancer treatment centre becoming operational here within the last few weeks, oncologist Jiri Kubes (pic attached), medical director of the Proton Therapy Center, says many patients in the UK will still be denied access to the treatment they want – and will be forced to make new plans.
Speaking about proton beam therapy – an alternative to traditional X-ray radiotherapy and said to target tumours with better accuracy while also reducing harmful side effects – Dr Kubes explains: “The demand for proton beam therapy is increasing year on year, with many patients seeking alternatives to the traditional cancer treatment pathways.
“While the NHS acknowledges the benefits of Proton Beam Therapy, and is building its own centres, they will still only be able to treat a fraction of those who might benefit from it, while many people will be turned down for the treatment because of the very limited indication criteria.
“There’s still a long way to go before patients in the UK have widespread access to it.
“It’s highly effective in treating tumours in extremely sensitive areas of the human body and it has also been proven that proton therapy reduces the risk of secondary cancers by more than half, compared with traditional radiotherapy.”
Unlike traditional X-ray radiotherapy – such as intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) – proton therapy uses an accelerated ‘pencil beam’ of positively-charged particles, travelling at 100,000 miles per hour, and which is said to target the area with pin-point accuracy and has a better chance of shrinking the tumour.
While X-rays pass all the way through the body, damaging sensitive tissues around and behind the tumour site, proton beam therapy particles stop at the tumour, reducing collateral damage and future ‘secondary’ cancers.
Last month (January) fifteen-year-old Mason Kettley, who has a rare brain cancer, become one of the first NHS UK patients to receive proton beam therapy, at a new £125m centre at Manchester’s Christie hospital.
A second NHS facility at University College London Hospital in London is due to begin treating patients in 2020.
A private UK proton therapy clinic – the Rutherford Cancer Centre – also began treating paying patients in April last year.
Yet Dr Tomas Bozek, a London-based oncologist, palliative care physician and UK representative for the PTC, says many adult NHS patients could still be turned away.
He added: “While the NHS is committing to proton beam therapy, the two new centres will still only be able to treat a relatively small number of patients.
“The plan is to treat children predominantly and a very limited number of adults.”
The price of the shortest treatment schedule in Prague is around £23,000.
In February last year (2018) Ashya King’s parents revealed details of their son’s incredible recovery from his medulloblastoma following treatment at the PTC.
Brett and Naghmeh King were briefly arrested in 2014 for taking their son, then five, out of Southampton General Hospital against doctors wishes, where he was due to undergo traditional chemotherapy radiation treatment.
A High Court judge eventually approved Ashya’s treatment in Prague.
They said Ashya is now a ‘typical young boy’ who loves riding his bike, watching movies and spending time with his family.
Mum Naghmeh said: “It’s amazing. It’s the sort of progress we as parents wanted him to make. We are thrilled.”