As the government announces £250m funding for proton beam therapy facilities in London and Manchester, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Wirral has upgraded its state of the art facilities after becoming the first UK Trust to offer the specialist radiotherapy for eye tumour patients over 20 years ago.
The upgrade includes a bespoke cancer proton beam therapy treatment chair, which is one of only three of its kind in the world and the first in the UK, which has been installed at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre to treat eye tumour patients.
The specially made chair, which took a team of technicians in Switzerland over five months to build, is used to deliver a specialist type of radiotherapy which uses a proton beam and is used treat patients with eye cancers.
A proton beam, due to its well-defined shape, allows tumours of any size, shape or position to be treated with very little effect to surrounding areas.
Public health minister, Anna Soubry, recently announced plans to invest in proton beam therapy to ensure that the NHS is providing world class cancer treatments.
The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre was the first site in the UK to deliver this innovative treatment over 24 years ago, and remains the only Proton Therapy Service to treat eye tumours in the country. Its new treatment chair, funded by charitable donations, will treat patients from the UK and across the world with eye cancer who can benefit from the highly specialist treatment.
One of the first patients to be treated using the state of the art proton therapy chair was 31-year-old Howard Monument from Chorlton in Manchester, who discovered he had a benign tumour in his eye. From a young age, Howard had noticed one of his eyes was weaker than the other and as he got older he found he was increasingly experiencing blurred vision and even bumping into things, which had an effect on his ability to do everyday tasks. It was at a routine eye test four years ago that the optician mentioned they could see a shadow in his eye.
Howard said: “It all happened rather quickly after the eye exam. I was sent to see a specialist in Liverpool which is where the word ‘tumour’ was first mentioned. It was a shock to hear, but I was reassured that my tumour was actually benign and very rare.
“Over the past few years I’ve noticed my vision deteriorating. Sometimes I’ll experience tunnel vision and it also disturbs me at night when I’m trying to get to sleep as I see shapes and flashing lights. After trying lots of different treatment options including laser treatment and beta blockers, proton therapy was offered to me as an option.
“I was slightly apprehensive about the thought of radiotherapy but I was happy to try anything as I knew that even losing vision completely in the eye would not make a huge difference to my sight. I felt extremely lucky to have been offered proton therapy at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre as I knew it’s the only place in the country you can have the treatment.
Howard had five rounds of proton therapy at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre last month and will be heading back for a check up this month at his referral centre to see if the treatment has been a success.
He continued: “It is quite nerve wracking having any form of treatment on your eyes, but I’m used to it now so was quite prepared. I was so impressed with every aspect of the process at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, from the staff putting my mind at ease to the facility and the proton chair itself. It really does look state of the art.
“The process of having proton therapy wasn’t too painful either, nothing compared to laser eye surgery! I didn’t really feel anything. I’ve already noticed that it’s easier to get to sleep on a night time, I’m not seeing shapes or flashing lights as much and I’ll know in a few weeks’ time how successful it’s been.”
The proton therapy department at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre treated a record number of patients from around the world last year for the highly specialist treatment.
Head of the department Andrzej Kacperek said: “We’re delighted that the new chair is finally in place at our Proton Therapy Service. It’s been a real privilege to build up this service at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre over the past 24 years.
“We actually built our original chair in house when we opened the service for a project, and as technology and expertise has improved we’ve been able to develop a truly pioneering world class service. This new chair and our refurbished clinic will only elevate the service we can offer even more and we really have invested in the future of the service.
“Proton therapy is an area of increasing international interest, particularly as the delivery of radiotherapy is so precise and targeted. In some cases proton beam therapy is the only viable treatment for certain eye tumours. Before it was introduced, removing the eye was often the only option. It is not a new treatment but the technology has improved enormously."