Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of external radiotherapy that uses high-energy proton beams instead of photon x-ray beams or electrons. Carefully measured doses of protons are delivered to the precise area needing treatment, using the latest IBA ProteusONE technology. This ensures that the delivery of proton beam therapy is highly accurate and prevents the risk of radiation reaching surrounding healthy tissue.
Radiotherapy is used to kill and destroy cancer cells. It utilises radiation in the form of high-energy x-rays, known as photons, to kill and damage the cancerous cells and prevent their growth and reproduction. It can be used as a non-surgical option to treat cancer, and it can also be used to shrink a tumour or in combination with other treatments.
The Rutherford Cancer Centres and Elekta are bringing the next generation of personalised adaptive radiotherapy technology to oncology centres across the UK, with the new MR-linac Elekta Unity now available at the Rutherford Cancer Centre North West in Liverpool.
These FAQs have been written to include some of the most frequently asked questions around being referred for proton beam therapy and receiving proton beam therapy treatment for cancer. If you have any queries that are not covered below or would like any further information, please do not hesitate to contact your support team or our enquiries team.
The side effects of proton beam therapy are similar to those experienced when receiving conventional radiotherapy, however, they can be less severe. Most side effects experienced by patients ease in a few weeks following completion of treatment. The peak of effects occurs seven to ten days after completing treatment but gradually reduces in the following weeks.
Proton beam therapy offers the same chance of tumour response as conventional radiotherapy but with fewer side effects. However, it’s not possible to give a measured success rate as success can be defined in many ways depending on the stage and nature of the cancer.
The success of proton beam therapy is measured by the effectiveness of treating cancers in certain areas of the body, and the reduction of side effects experienced. Proton beam therapy is commonly offered as a combination treatment following or prior to surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy.
As an example: the success of treating brain cancer with proton beam therapy would be measured on the reduced severity of harsh side effects (such as nausea and fatigue that the patient experiences during treatment), and the reduced number of treatment ‘fractions’ a patient receives as part of the full treatment course. Any positive changes to the tumour, such as shrinking in size or stopping of tumour growth and cancer cell spread would be measured as a treatment success but may not align with how a patient measures treatment success.
The side effects patients commonly experience while undergoing proton beam therapy are very similar to those experienced with conventional radiotherapy and are dependent on which area of the body is being treated; fatigue, nausea, some skin irritation, and hair loss in the area treated are common side effects of radiotherapy and proton beam therapy. However, the benefits of proton beam therapy include reduced severity of both long and short-term of these side effects.
Short-term or acute side effects, including those mentioned above, normally occur during treatment and tend to ease within a few weeks following completion of treatment. The treatment team will advise how best to manage any side effects as they occur. You can talk to your supportive care team for advice on dealing with side effects.
The side effects of proton beam therapy are much like those experienced when receiving conventional radiotherapy, however, they are less severe. Side effects can have a delayed effect. The peak of effects is at their worst seven to ten days after completing treatment but gradually reduce in the following weeks.
At Rutherford Cancer Centres, proton beam therapy is delivered using a machine called the Proteus®ONE system, which has pencil beam scanning facilities. Treatments are planned using both Pinnacle3 and Raystation planning systems.
Our treatment rooms are equipped with the latest Philips’ Ambient Experience which provides patients with an interactive healthcare experience, with the option to choose soothing, coloured lights and music during the treatment process.
Patients receiving proton beam therapy will be placed comfortably on the ‘couch’ part of the machine, then the machine will do the rest. The pencil beam has the ability to rotate around you to deliver radiation to your treatment area, so you won’t need to move much (or at all) during a treatment session.
You will not need a general anaesthetic to receive proton beam therapy. It is important that you lie as still as possible during treatment delivery and there are various ways in which you can be supported to do this. In some instances, we may use special pieces of equipment which we will be prepared when you have your treatment planning session(s). Your supportive care team and oncologist will be able to provide support in preparation for your treatment delivery.
As proton beam therapy has less severe side effects than conventional radiotherapy, it is a favourable cancer treatment for children as they are more likely to suffer long-term effects from radiation-based cancer treatments. The Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales is approved to treat children 3 years and over. However, agreeing to treat a child is on a case-by-case basis depending on their individual needs.
Yes, depending on your treatment plan, you may need to receive proton beam therapy prior to or after receiving surgery. The intention of receiving proton beam therapy alongside surgery is to remove any remaining cancer cells following surgery or to reduce the size of a tumour prior to receiving surgery.
Proton beam therapy is an alternative treatment for conventional radiotherapy with reduced severity of side effects. It is more likely to be used in combination with surgery as a comprehensive cancer treatment rather than replacing surgery altogether.
The total length of treatment is dependent on your individual circumstances, the location of the tumour, what stage the cancer is at and the spread of cancer cells. Before your treatment begins, your consultant will advise the estimated length of treatment and how many sessions you will need to attend before your treatment course is completed. Individual treatments (known as ‘fractions’) do not take long - normally between 15 to 45 minutes depending on the area to be treated.
Pencil beam scanning is the most advanced delivery type of proton beam therapy currently available in the world. It utilises high-energy proton beams, which are only a few millimetres wide to accurately treat a tumour to its exact size and shape, preventing radiation from reaching the surrounding healthy cells and tissue.
After diagnosis and the treatment planning stage, you will be advised of the details of your treatment and your intended treatment schedule. If you are having treatment for a tumour in your head or neck area then you will have a mask to wear. The mask is custom made for you when visiting us for your treatment planning CT appointment. The mask ensures you remain in the correct position throughout the treatment delivery.
Treatments are normally delivered daily, Monday to Friday. On arrival at the centre, staff will direct you through to the treatment waiting room. On your first visit, we understand that you may feel anxious about going for treatment. Our staff and your supportive care team are on hand to provide advice and support throughout the entire process. If you feel anxious or nervous, please speak to our staff at any time during your visit to us.
When the radiographers take you through to the treatment room, they will position you on the treatment couch and will ensure you and the proton beam therapy machine are correctly positioned, and that you are comfortable prior to the treatment starting. As it is important for you to lie completely still during the treatment session, the team will ensure your comfort prior to leaving the room.
After your radiographers leave the room, they will take a quick imaging scan to ensure you and the treatment machine are correctly positioned. This is known as IGPT (image-guided proton therapy). The machine will move around you taking images that are sent to the radiographers in the next room. Once your treatment team are satisfied your treatment is being delivered to the correct place, they will advise you that your treatment will begin shortly. It may be necessary to take more images during your treatment.
During the treatment session, you should not feel any pain or heat, however, the machine can make a buzzing or humming noise, which is perfectly normal. If you have any concerns while your treatment is taking place, alert your treatment team. Before your treatment begins, your treatment team will explain how best to alert them if you want the treatment to stop. They will also be watching you throughout your treatment delivery and can speak to you via the intercom.
After your initial consultation, you will be asked to bring your completed consent form and provide insurance documents (if you are covered by private health insurance) with you on your returning visit. In addition, you should bring a list of current medication and allergies. For your treatment sessions, you can bring personal entertainment devices such as a book, mp3 or tablet device. Free Wi-Fi is provided throughout the centres for patients and visitors.
As the issues associated with coronavirus (COVID-19) continue, our number one priority at the Rutherford is the health and safety of our patients, colleagues and partners. We are committed to following all Department of Health guidance and ensuring the strict code of hygiene and other appropriate measures are in place in all Rutherford Cancer Centres. Relatives and friends are asked to wait in their cars unless it is identified that they need to accompany the patient, this is to reduce the number of people in our centres at any one time.
The length of proton beam therapy treatment is determined by multiple factors, including the type, location and staging of the cancer and your individual circumstances. As everyone is different, no two treatment pathways are the same and the treatment time can vary greatly between patients with the same cancer type.
Your oncologist and cancer support team will be able to advise the anticipated length of treatment during the treatment planning stage. In addition, you may have regular imaging sessions to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and whether additional or fewer treatments will be required.
During the treatment planning phase, you will be introduced to your consultant and your supportive care team. If you require any additional support regarding side effects, additional therapies and coping with your treatment, your supportive care team are available to help at any time. Any questions regarding your treatment should be raised with your radiographers who will inform your consultant oncologist.
No. Proton beam therapy is a type of cancer treatment that only requires the attendance of up to an hour in the centre, per day, over a course of several weeks or months. Patients may feel some fatigue or nausea after their treatment session but are perfectly safe to drive, work and be around others.
Patients don’t usually experience any pain while receiving proton beam therapy treatment, although you may experience more sensitivity in the area where the beam is located. This can include a reddening of the skin in the treatment area, increased sensitivity of the skin and potentially a loss of hair in the treatment area. If you have any concerns at all about any side effects, your treatment will be on hand whenever you need them.
Proton beam therapy is a highly targeted form of radiotherapy used for treating cancer, enabling a high dose delivery at the site of disease whilst reducing the dose received by surrounding organs, which in turn can help to reduce both short and long-term side effects of treatment. Proton beam therapy uses high-energy protons to damage the DNA within cancer cells and prevents them from growing and dividing. Proton beam therapy may be used in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy and/or surgery, or as a sole treatment.
No. Proton beam therapy has been in use since the 1950s, particularly in the United States and some centres in Germany and Switzerland. There is clinical evidence available of its safety, and strong clinical consensus about its efficacy for a range of tumour sites. It is a well-researched cancer treatment, with plenty of whitepapers to support it as an effective treatment that can reduce the chance of secondary malignancies, alongside reducing the severity of side effects.
Yes, proton beam therapy is available at the Rutherford Cancer Centres privately and via the NHS by referral (where framework agreements apply). It is currently available at the Rutherford Cancer Centres located in South Wales, North East and Thames Valley.
Additionally, proton beam therapy is available from The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and will soon be available at the University College Hospital in London for patients who meet the NHS criteria.
IBA has collected a comprehensive selection of proton beam therapy whitepapers that can be explored on the IBA website. You can also read a summary from the researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, who carried out the largest study of its kind to date, on the different effects of receiving proton and photon therapies
Proton beam therapy is most beneficial for patients with cancers in highly sensitive locations such as brain tumours, tumours located in the neck and spine, prostate tumours and tumours that affect necessary bodily systems such as respiratory and digestive systems. You can find out more about the body areas we treat with proton beam therapy, by using our treatment finder.
At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we can treat many cancers that occur across the body in both males and females. For a comprehensive list of cancers treated with proton beam therapy, please refer to our proton beam therapy treatment page or you can use our treatment finder located on our homepage.
The advantage of treating certain cancers with proton beam therapy is dependent on the type, location and staging of the cancer.
Patients are referred for proton beam therapy where there is evidence to suggest their cancer is better treated with proton beam therapy or a combination of treatments. The targeted nature of proton beam therapy can reduce the side effects of treatment and in some cases lead to a higher chance of cure. Your oncologist will be able to discuss in detail why you have or haven’t been referred for proton beam therapy, and how your treatment has been tailored specifically to your needs and personal circumstances.
Proton beam therapy is an advanced treatment that has only in recent years been made available in the UK and, as such, there are still only a few treatment centres that offer proton beam therapy as a cancer treatment.
Your doctor may not have suggested proton beam therapy as a treatment for you as your cancer is being treated efficiently by surgery or radiotherapy without a high risk of severe side effects. Additionally, your doctor may not be aware of the availability of proton beam therapy in your surrounding area or the benefits of this treatment option. Speak to your doctor about your candidacy for treatment and find out more about the Rutherford Cancer Centres referral process.
High-energy proton beam therapy is still a relatively new treatment to the UK and is currently only available in three of the Rutherford Cancer Centres and one NHS centre. As more patients are referred for proton beam therapy treatment, we are likely to see more positive media coverage and information on where patients can receive proton beam therapy as a treatment - either through private treatment services or on the NHS.
There are certain body sites for which proton beam therapy isn’t suitable., Our enquiries team will be happy to advise you if your condition is, or isn’t, able to be treated with proton beam therapy at the Rutheford. However, you do have the option of a second opinion, for which a consultation will need to take place.
The consulting oncologist makes a decision on whether they think that proton beam therapy would be a suitable treatment option, usually during a face to face consultation. If you live overseas or have difficulty travelling then a video consultation can be arranged unless a physical examination is deemed essential.
The consultant would then refer you to the Rutherford Proton Review, where a panel of oncologists (who are experienced in treating with proton beam therapy) discuss your treatment needs and condition. The panel will then give their recommendations for the next steps. Following this, you be entered into the dual planning and peer review stages, which are used to ensure the appropriateness of proton beam therapy, alongside other methods of treatment.
The purpose of reviewing proton beam therapy alongside other treatments in this way is to make sure that you are given accurate information and that any treatment plan is formed based on your specific needs and the best possible outcomes of the treatment methods.
Yes, proton beam therapy can be used in combination with surgery, chemotherapy and immunotherapy. It may be used prior to treatment to shrink the tumour and enable the secondary treatment to be more effective or used after treatment to destroy any remaining cancer cells in the tumour site and prevent secondary malignancies.
We work with many trusted healthcare partners including Allianz Care, Bupa, Vitality and Aviva. If you have any questions regarding supported health insurance providers, talk to your insurer or contact us on 0800 210 0402 for further information.
Yes, patients seeking proton beam therapy treatment at the Rutherford Cancer Centres must receive a referral from their consultant or oncologist. More information on our referral process can be found on our referrals to Rutherford page.
While there are no official waiting lists at Rutherford Cancer Centres, we need to collect as much clinical information as possible relating to your health, typically this includes:
Previous radiotherapy plans
The above details will be available from your current healthcare provider, before we can offer a consultation date which can sometimes cause a delay. Once the required information has been collected, a consultation can usually be arranged for the following week or the week after, but this will depend on consultant availability. If you need to be seen urgently, we have the ability to ask consultants who treat at another centre to offer a video consultation. We have our proton treatment plans peer-reviewed in the US, so this can add up to an additional two weeks wait before treatment begins but is a key part of ensuring clinical excellence.
Part of our holistic cancer care package is providing access to our dedicated supportive care team who are available for you, or your family, at any time during or after your treatment. Your supportive care team can arrange additional supportive therapies during your treatment where necessary, and offer expert guidance on your treatment including living a healthy lifestyle while receiving treatment. For further information about supportive care at the Rutherford please visit our supportive care page.
The Rutherford Cancer Centres are currently located in Newport (South Wales), Reading, Northumberland and Liverpool. The Rutherford Cancer Centres in Newport, Reading and Northumberland currently offer proton beam therapy.
While Rutherford Cancer Centres do not provide or have access to housing facilities, we are located in areas with ample accommodation available, including hotels and guest houses that can be booked should you want to stay near the centre. All our cancer treatment methods are delivered as outpatient procedures, so we don’t have any accommodation on site.
No. Patients looking to be treated at the Rutherford Cancer Centres should seek a referral from their consultant oncologist (if they are registered to work with us). A full list of consultants working with Rutherford Cancer Centres can be found here. More information on the referral process, including a snapshot of the typical patient pathway, can be found on our referral page.
If you have any questions regarding the referral process at the Rutherford Cancer Centres, please get in touch with us on 0800 210 0402.
No. Proton beam therapy is performed as an outpatient procedure. No patient will be required to stay overnight, and Rutherford Cancer Centres do not provide facilities for patients to remain overnight.
If you need to change the time or date of your appointment, please speak to your treatment team or contact the Rutherford Cancer Centres on 0800 210 0402 and we will try to arrange a more suitable time and day.
The cost of proton beam therapy will depend on the individual patient circumstances including the location, type and staging of the cancer. As every patient and every cancer diagnosis is unique, there isn’t a set cost for proton beam therapy and the final treatment cost will factor in the type of treatments required, and the total number of treatments.
During the treatment delivery process, patients will regularly undergo imaging to check on the effectiveness of the treatment and the current status of the cancer. The imaging results could indicate a requirement for more or fewer proton beam therapy treatments, which will also influence the total cost of the proton beam therapy treatment.
Patients can self-pay when covering their own treatment or, alternatively, payment can be made by insurance for privately insured patients or paid by the NHS for patients receiving treatment through the NHS.
Rutherford Cancer Centres is transforming cancer care by offering a truly unique and holistic approach to cancer treatment and supportive care. We use the latest in advanced technology for diagnostic imaging and treating cancer using chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and proton beam therapy. Rutherford Cancer Centres provide a personalised treatment pathway that has been carefully tailored to the individual patient and is aided by our supportive care team.
Our aim is to make it easy for patients to receive outstanding, quality cancer care in a Rutherford Cancer Centre, situated only ninety minutes from all major UK locations.