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Referrals for Proton Beam Therapy

Proton beam therapy is a type of targeted treatment used for treating cancer. Proton beam therapy uses high-energy protons to interrupt the inner workings of cancer cells in order to prevent growth and development. It can be used for shrinking tumours to provide relief from symptoms, in preparation for additional treatment such as chemotherapy, or following surgery to reduce the likelihood of cancerous cells returning. It can also be used with the intention of killing the cancer cells.

No. Proton beam therapy 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.

IBA has collected a comprehensive selection of proton beam therapy whitepapers that can be explored here.

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.

Yes, proton beam therapy is available in the Rutherford Cancer Centres privately, and via the NHS in Wales by referral. The Rutherford Cancer Centre network includes state-of-the-art treatment centres in the North East, North West and Thames Valley in England and another centre in South Wales. With the intention to open a further four centres across the UK in the coming year, Rutherford’s aim is to provide an advanced cancer treatment within 90 minutes of all major UK cities and towns, for the convenience of patients.

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.

Proton beam therapy is most suitable 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.

At the Rutherford Cancer Centres, we can treat many cancers that occur across the body. For a comprehensive list of cancers treated with proton beam therapy, please refer to our Proton Beam Therapy treatment page or our Body Sites Map.

The advantage of treating certain cancers with proton beam therapy is dependant 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 through proton beam therapy or a combination of treatments. This might be due to a reduction in the severity of side effects experienced or because their cancer is in a sensitive location and requires additional care.

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 recently 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 treatment using proton beam therapy.

Speak to your doctor about your candidacy for treatment and find out more about the Rutherford Cancer Centres referral process here.

High energy proton beam therapy is still a relatively new treatment to the UK and is currently only available in some of Rutherford Cancer Centres and one NHS centre. As more patients are referred for proton beam 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.

As the enquiries team know that there are certain body sites that proton beam therapy isn’t suitable for, if we receive enquiries for one of these body sites, we inform them that we are not able to treat their condition with protons at present. The patient would still be given the option of a second opinion for the full range of treatments that Rutherford Cancer Centres offer; they aren’t simply turned away. We do this to be transparent from the outset, as there is a cost involved for a consultation.

The consulting oncologist would then make a decision on whether they feel that protons would be a suitable treatment option, usually during a face to face consultation. If the patient lives overseas or has difficulty travelling then a video consultation can be made arranged unless a physical examination is deemed essential.

The consultant would then refer the patient to be discussed at the Rutherford Proton Review, where a panel of oncologists who are experienced in treating with protons discuss the case. They will then either approve, decline or amend what has been recommended at the consultation. Patients are then entered into the dual planning and peer review stages, which are used to ensure the appropriateness of proton beam therapy.

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 catch and kill any remaining cancer cells in the tumour site and prevent secondary malignancies.

We work with many trusted healthcare partners including Allianz Care, Aviva and Bupa. A full list can be found at the bottom of our Partners page.

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 treatment via proton beam therapy at the Rutherford Cancer Centres must receive a referral from their consultant or oncologist. More information on our referral process can be found here.

Receiving Proton Beam Therapy

The main difference between conventional radiation and proton beam therapy is the severity of side effects experienced by patients. As proton beam therapy is a highly targeted treatment, protons are ‘painted’ accurately onto the cancer cells within the tumour and travel to a restricted depth, reducing the number of healthy cells that experience radiation. This leads to less severe side effects such as fatigue and nausea. With greater control over the accuracy of treatment, higher doses can be offered, reducing the total amount of sessions a patient needs to receive for full delivery of treatment.

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. As every cancer patient has a unique set of circumstances, the successfulness of proton beam therapy can be hard to measure. This is particularly true as 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; fatigue, nausea, some skin irritation and hair loss in the area treated. However, the benefits of proton beam therapy include reduced severity of both long and short-term side effects.

Short-term side effects, including those mentioned above, normally only last as long as the treatment and soon ease after the treatment has been completed. You can talk to your supportive care team for advice on dealing with side effects.

Depending on the area to be treated, patients may experience other side effects such as soreness in the area treated and some digestive issues. These are fairly uncommon with proton beam therapy but talk to your care team if you are experiencing these side effects and require additional advice and support.

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 via the Philips’ Big Bore CT and Pinnacle3 Treatment Planning System, supported by a Proteus®ONE superconducting cyclotron and pencil beam scanning facilities.

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.

You will not need to receive a general anaesthetic to receive proton beam therapy, however, it is important that you lie as still as possible during treatment delivery. 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 are more likely to suffer long-term effects from radiation-based cancer treatments. Rutherford Cancer Centres are aiming to treat children in the future using proton beam therapy but, currently, proton therapy is only available to adult patients.

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 in place of.

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. The treatment does not take place until you are comfortably in position.

Pencil beam scanning is the most advanced delivery type of proton beam therapy currently available. It utilises high-energy proton beams only a few millimetres wide to accurately shape the area being treated to mirror that of tumours and cancer cells, preventing radiation reaching the surrounding healthy cells. Pencil beam scanning allows for higher treatment doses per treatment session, reducing the length of the overall cancer treatment.

At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use pencil beam scanning for all of our proton beam therapy treatments.

During my Treatment

After diagnosis and the treatment planning stage, you will be advised of the details of your treatment and your intended treatment schedule. Depending on your treatment area, you may also have been given a special type of treatment mask that will be fitted prior to your treatment taking place.

Treatments are normally delivered daily, Monday to Friday. On arrival at the centre, staff will direct you through to the treatment area 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 reach out to our staff at any time during your treatment.

When you move through to the treatment room, the radiologists will take time to 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 radiologists 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) however, this is not required for every patient. The radiography machine will move around the patient taking images that are sent to the radiology team in the next room. Once the team are satisfied your treatment is being delivered to the correct place, they will advise you that your treatment will begin shortly.

During the treatment session, patients 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 team by calling out or waving your hand slightly – you should avoid moving too much during your treatment and avoid interrupting the beam with your hand.

Unless you have been coached for DIBH (deep inspiration breath-hold) for treatment in certain places on the body, you can breathe normally during your treatment. You will only be expected to lie on the positioning couch for between 10-15 minutes and the team will advise when it is fine for you to move again once the prescribed dose has been delivered.

After your initial consultation, you will be asked to bring your completed consent form, and also provide insurance documents (if you are covered by private health insurance) with you on your returning visit.

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 use by patients and visitors.

Patients are welcome to bring along a friend, family member or carer to their treatment session. We ask patients bringing children (who are not receiving the treatment) with them to bring another adult for supervision during the treatment, as we do not allow children to be unattended in the Rutherford Cancer Centre waiting areas.

The length of proton beam therapy treatment is determined by multiple factors, including the type, location and staging of the cancer and the patient’s individual circumstances. As no patient is alike, no two treatment paths 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, patients will go for 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 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.

No. Patients will not 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.

No. After receiving your proton beam therapy treatment you will not be radioactive and are perfectly safe to be around others, including pregnant women and children.

Proton Beam Therapy at Rutherford Cancer Centres

While there are no official waiting lists at Rutherford Cancer Centres, we need to collect:

o   Clinic letters

o   Histology reports

o   Scans

o   Scan reports

From the patient’s current health care provider, before we can offer a consultation date which can sometimes cause a delay. Once the required dataset 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 a patient needed to be seen urgently, we have the ability to ask consultants who treat at another centre to offer a video consultation. As we have our proton plans peer-reviewed in the US, 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 who are available for you or your family to talk to 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.

The Rutherford Cancer Centres are currently located in Newport, South Wales, Reading and Northumberland. Our Liverpool centre will open in 2020 and there are plans to build an additional four cancer centres offering proton beam therapy in the UK over the next few years.

While Rutherford Cancer Centres do not provide housing facilities or accommodation, we are located in areas with ample accommodation available, including hotels and guest houses that we can recommend should you want to stay near the centre.

All our cancer treatments are delivered as outpatient procedures and patients will not be expected to stay overnight in the centre. If you are travelling to us and need help with booking accommodation while having treatment, we will take care of this for you at an additional cost.

All of our open centres offer proton beam therapy, including the Rutherford Thames Valley, the Rutherford North East and the Rutherford South Wales. The Rutherford North West is due to open in early 2020 and offer proton beam therapy from late 2020.

As we build more centres, we will continue to update information on where proton beam therapy is available in the UK. Eventually, the Rutherford Cancer Centres intend to provide an advanced cancer treatment centre within 90 minutes of all major UK locations.

Currently, proton beam therapy is available on the NHS in the Rutherford Newport, South Wales by referral. Rutherford Cancer Centres and Proton Partners International are working closely with NHS England in an effort to make proton beam therapy available on the NHS across all our centres.

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 reach out to 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 reach out to 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, the length of treatments 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 out of pocket or, alternatively, payment can be made by insurance for privately insured patients or paid by the NHS for patients receiving treatment under the NHS.

Like all NHS treatments, patients will be expected to pay out of pocket for any additional personal requirements and will be asked to provide a debit or credit card, once their treatment plan is confirmed, to cover the cost of sundries.

Rutherford Cancer Centres are transforming cancer care by offering a truly unique and holistic approach to cancer treatment and supportive care. We utilise the latest in advanced technology for diagnostic imaging and treating cancer using chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and, soon to be across all our centres, 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.

Our centres are designed to offer a comfortable and personalised experience. With cosy consultation rooms that patients can rest in privately and the Philips Ambience Experience in our diagnostics and treatment rooms. The Philips Ambience Experience allows patients to choose the lighting and music during their appointment with additional options for visual distractions that can help relax and soothe the patient during their time in the centre.

Get in Touch

If you'd like to speak to us about any of the treatments we offer please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Call us on 0800 210 0402 or

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