Manchester cancer hospital The Christie has given 1,000 patients proton beam therapy

The Christie was the first NHS hospital to offer proton beam therapy when it welcomed its first patient in 2018 following a £250m investment.

Manchester specialist cancer hospital The Christie has marked an important milestone as it welcomed its 1,000th patient to receive proton beam therapy.

The hospital was the first place to offer the life-saving treatment on the NHS when it opened its facility in 2018 and is still one of only two places in the UK where cancer patients can have the therapy. It was a major step forward for the health service when proton beam therapy became available in Manchester as before that the NHS had had to pay for people who needed it to go abroad.

The 1,000th patient, who came from Yorkshire to have the therapy, spoke about his experience, while the hospital has described how five years after introducing proton beam therapy in the NHS it is continuing to work at the cutting edge of cancer research.

What is proton beam therapy and where is it offered in the UK?

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy which has the major benefit of being able to target cancers very precisely. This means patients can experience fewer side effects from their battle with cancer.

While the current standard treatment for cancer is usually effective, patients with head and neck tumours in particular can suffer from long-term side effects including dry mouth, loss of taste, difficulty chewing and swallowing and problems with hearing. Some patients might need to use a feeding tube for the rest of their lives.

The Christie became the first place to offer proton beam therapy on the NHS when it opened its facility in 2018, following a massive £250m investment by NHS England. Even today, five years later, there are just two UK specialist centres, as University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust began treating patients in 2021.

Before The Christie began treating cancer patients with proton beam therapy, the NHS had to pay for people who wanted it to be treated abroad. The health service has embarked on a programme of investment and training up the workforce over the past decade so proton beam therapy can be offered in the UK.

The 1,000th patient to receive proton beam therapy at The Christie

The 1,000th patient to receive the pioneering treatment at The Christie was 56-year-old Adrian Bishop from Rotherham, who was diagnosed with tonsil cancer last year when he noticed a painful ulcer at the back of his throat was getting bigger.

Doctors at his local cancer treatment centre in Sheffield explained that Adrian would be an ideal patient for proton beam therapy and he is currently in the middle of his treatment, which includes 33 sessions of daily proton beam therapy treatment as well as two chemotherapy sessions. Adrian is staying at NHS-funded accommodation in Manchester throughout his time in the city.

Adrian Bishop, who is the 1,000th patient to receive proton beam therapy at The Christie
Adrian Bishop, who is the 1,000th patient to receive proton beam therapy at The Christie
Adrian Bishop, who is the 1,000th patient to receive proton beam therapy at The Christie

Grandad of two Adrian, who works for Royal Mail, said: “I’m quite proud to be the 1,000th patient at The Christie to receive proton treatment. I hadn’t heard of it before. Everyone has heard of chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but not proton beam. When I learnt more about it, it looked an ideal way to help me suffer less side effects than the usual treatment can cause. I’m really pleased I was deemed eligible to be treated at The Christie.

“It is going well so far. The Christie is a fantastic place and is definitely in the business class of hospitals. I was obviously very frightened when I was diagnosed. It was a huge shock and in some ways, the mental impact is just as tough as the physical side. Fortunately my doctors explained that with the treatment it would be curable, so here I am in Manchester.

“I know I have a few tough weeks ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to getting my treatment completed so I can get back to my passions of fishing, football and rugby.”

What has the hospital said about giving 1,000 patients proton beam therapy?

The Christie is proud of its achievements in offering the potentially life-saving therapy to 1,000 patients but is certainly not resting on its laurels and is continuing to push the boundaries of cancer treatment and research by running a pioneering proton beam therapy clinical trial, the first to be done in the UK.

TORPEdO, which is co-led by The Christie and The Institute of Cancer Research, is aiming to determine whether the use of proton beam therapy reduces long-term side effects and improves quality of life for patients treated with radiotherapy for throat cancer.

A year after treatment, patients will be asked about their quality of life and doctors will assess the impact of any side-effects, and whether they still need to use a feeding tube a year after treatment, or have lost a significant amount of weight. Adrian is in the cohort taking part in this trial.

Clinical director of proton beam therapy at The Christie, Professor Ed Smith, said: “We’re delighted to reach this milestone of 1,000 proton beam therapy patients at The Christie. While proton beam therapy is not appropriate for all patients, Adrian is a prime example of how it can be used to reduce side effects for some of our patients. We’re very proud of what we have achieved since we opened our doors in 2018.”

Anyone who would like to take part in a clinical trial should speak to their consultant or GP, as not all cancer patients will be eligible.