A NEW breast cancer treatment programme could save the lives of thousands of sufferers, doctors have claimed.
Proton Beam Therapy hit headlines when Ashya King, 6, who was suffering with a brain tumour - was taken out of NHS care by his parents to be treated with the therapy in the Czech Republic.
They argued that proton therapy - as opposed to traditional radiotherapy - offered fewer toxic side effects. Now those specialists at Proton Therapy Center in Prague ia urging UK breast cancer sufferers to opt for the same course of action.
They say the treatment not only kills cancer cells but helps to reduce the risk of heart attack in later life - a common side-effect of conventional treatment which affects thousands of patients each year.
Proton therapy uses positively charged particles and precision targeting of the affected area, meaning radiation doses can be radically decreased. Dr Jiri Kubes, radiation oncologist of the Proton Therapy Center in Prague explained: “Proton therapy has a number of advantages when it comes to treating breast cancer, as opposed to standard radiation.
“We know that women with cancer of the left breast in particular, after standard radiation, have more heart attacks, ten to twelve years after irradiation. “And this side effect comes down to dosage. Radiotherapy is recommended in cases where only part of the breast has been removed.
Breat cancer: Cardiologists say heart damage could be a side-effect of chemotherapy
“We know that women with cancer of the left breast in particular, after standard radiation, have more heart attacks, 10 to 12 years after irradiation.
Dr Jiri Kubes
“In conventional photon radiotherapy this can cause doses of radiation to reach the heart or lungs, depending on the location of the tumour.
“This in turn can lead to problems many years after treatment is completed - the cardiotoxicity may result in heart failure, arrhythmia, hypertension and heart attack. “Proton beam therapy, however, uses a ‘pencil beam’ of protons which stop at a defined depth, meaning much less damage to surrounding tissue.
“And with proton therapy we can also reduce the dose of radiation close to the heart from five grades to 0.1 - that’s a typical reduction of 99 per cent. “So we are therefore expecting that we can reduce the risk of heart attacks which are being caused by radiation too. Of course, there must be a long life expectancy in such patients, so younger sufferers will benefit more than those later in life.
“But it could offer real hope for a great many people.”The bad news for Brits is that proton therapy is not generally available on the NHS for breast cancer patients and no UK centre currently offers the treatment.
A select few patients - around 450 since 2008 - have been sent abroad for proton therapy in Switzerland or America - locations far more costly than treatment in Prague. But while proton beam centres are due to open in Manchester and London in 2018, many have decided to pay for their treatments privately in the meantime.
Proton Therapy Center Prague, headed by Dr Kubes, began its breast cancer programme late last year and has already treated dozens of patients. Around 60,000 women and men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK. People who also experience irradiation to combat tumours are prone to potentially fatal cardiac problems 10 to 12 years later.
Recommended treatments for breast cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, biological therapy and hormonal therapy.
Ana Caterina Gomes, cardiologist from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, told the European Society of Cardiology conference in Germany that heart damage can be a side effect of chemotherapy drugs known as ‘anthracyclines’.
She claimed that reports of cardiotoxicity were on the rise, ‘mainly because a smaller proportion of patients now die from cancer’.She said: “In the coming years this cardiotoxicity looks set to increase the burden of heart failure in cancer survivors.”
She warned that most damage is done during the first year of any prolonged chemotherapy treatment and warned that careful monitoring was needed to avoid any toxic damage to the heart.
Patients with diabetes also showed more signs of the damage that’s considered an early warning for heart failure.