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Ground-breaking bowel cancer treatment sees patient numbers soar by 100 per cent

The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre has seen over a 100 per cent increase in the number of suitable bowel cancer patients being referred for the Papillon technique, a contact radiotherapy procedure developed for the treatment of early-stage bowel cancer – the third most common type of cancer in the UK.

The Centre, which was the first place in the UK to offer Papillon, credits the rise to the national bowel cancer screening programme, which encourages adults to undertake a quick and easy at-home test to detect the early signs of the disease, when a patient wouldn’t necessarily be experiencing any symptoms.

Lead Papillon Clinician at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, Professor Arthur Sun Myint, commented: “Papillon is recommended for some early stage bowel cancer patients. The treatment means patients may have a better quality of life as they may not require major surgery, which can result in the need for either a temporary or permanent colostomy bag. The dedicated team here has seen first-hand how Papillon has developed over the years and how truly life-changing the procedure can be for patients.”

Screening plays such an important part in the fight against bowel cancer because the earlier the cancer is diagnosed, the greater the chance it can be cured completely. Techniques such as Papillon are becoming increasingly available to patients, thanks to more and more people understanding the importance of responding to screening invitations, meaning they’re offered the best possible quality of life if they are found to have bowel cancer.

Professor Myint continued: “Up until December 2012, we were treating an average of 100 patients per year with the Papillon technique. In the last six months alone, this has risen to 200 patients. It’s a fantastic milestone for us and we can only see that number increasing. The success rate for the treatment is extremely high so the more patients who are diagnosed earlier and are eligible for the treatment, the better.”

Ian Chadwick (61), from Manchester, was diagnosed with early-stage bowel cancer in May 2013, after being invited for bowel cancer screening just after his 60th birthday. He is now in remission after being treated with the Papillon technique at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.

He commented: “I was shocked when I first heard I had bowel cancer. I didn’t have any symptoms at all before I was diagnosed and only went along for screening because the letter popped through my door.

“My clinician at the time told me about the treatment I was going to need, which would have resulted in having to use a colostomy bag and I just didn’t want it. I’ve always been a very active person and just couldn’t bring myself to think about what life would be like afterwards, so I started looking at alternative treatment methods.

“I was then introduced to Professor Myint at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and when he explained the Papillon treatment to me and said I was a suitable candidate for it, it seemed like a no brainer to go ahead. I started my treatment in early July and had three rounds of Papillon in total. My wife always joined me in the treatment room and we were able to see the tumour on a screen at all times. Each time we went back, it was visibly clear that the tumour was significantly reducing in size – it was fascinating and offered us both great comfort. I now go back for regular check-ups but have been told there is nothing significant to be found, so in other words, I’ve got the all clear.

“I can’t thank Professor Myint and his team enough for giving me the chance to regain a normal life – as a bit of a family tradition, my wife and I take each of our five grandchildren to Florida when they turn 10 years old and that just wouldn’t have been possible for me to continue with had I gone ahead with the surgical operation, but now they have a fit and healthy grandad. I was lucky enough to catch my cancer early as I’d been given the invitation for screening as part of the national programme, so I can’t emphasise enough how important it is for people to respond to those letters or get themselves checked out if they have even minor symptoms. It really can save your life and I’m walking proof of that.”

The innovative Papillon procedure was first brought to the UK in 1993, when Professor Arthur Sun Myint introduced it at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre. In 2013, it moved to new, state-of-the-art facilities partly funded by The Clatterbridge Cancer Charity. The contact radiotherapy is given in high doses to an area close to the tumour: often every two weeks for a total of six weeks, sometimes as a boost to conventional chemo-radiotherapy on an outpatient basis, and occasionally with some minimally-invasive surgery. Aside from some local anaesthetic in the form of cream, no other anaesthesia is required for Papillon.

 The procedure is also available at three additional sites in the UK – St Luke’s Cancer Centre in Guildford, the Hull and East Yorkshire NHS Trust and Nottingham City Hospital as well as at a handful of centres in France and Norway.

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