Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is helping young patients hope for a better future.
CANCER PATIENT STEPS UP TO BEAT CANCER
Julie Hill, a 49-year-old hospital worker who was treated with pioneering proton therapy in Switzerland for a rare form of cancer, is stepping out for Cancer Research UK’s latest fundraising campaign called “Walk All Over Cancer”.
Julie was diagnosed with chordoma at the back of her skull in June 2014. Chordoma is a type of bone cancer so rare that the odds of getting it were a million to one, and by the time she was diagnosed, it had spread to the bone in her throat behind her nose. “I felt I had been hit with a death sentence. No one knew anything about the cancer I had and no one could answer my questions. It was like living a nightmare,” she recalls. After undergoing surgery in the UK, experts said proton therapy was her only hope and the grandmother of five travelled to Switzerland for 9 weeks to undergo the state-of-the-art treatment. When Julie returned to the UK she received daily therapy and counselling to help her cope with the extreme anxiety her experience had caused. She still suffers from chronic fatigue but is back at work and strives to keep a positive attitude. “I know my cancer is aggressive, and although proton therapy stunted it, it didn’t cure it. There are no other treatments available, so I am living on a knife-edge,” said Julie. Today, she is inviting men and women across her county to support the latest fundraising campaign of Cancer Research UK. “I took part in Walk All Over Cancer last year and will be doing so again this year. For me it’s a way of giving something back. Research is the only way we make progress.”
TRAVELLING TO PRAGUE FOR TREATMENT
Jon Briggs, a 50-year-old father from Aberdeen, Scotland, is calling for the introduction of routine cancer screenings in the UK after flying to the Czech Republic for pioneering proton therapy.
Jon started monitoring his PSA score, which measures the level of a protein specifically produced by the prostate, after his friend was told he had terminal cancer. Despite having no symptoms, Jon found out that he also had the disease but had caught it at an early enough stage to undergo treatment. After visiting a number of specialists, he was given two options: surgery to remove the whole prostate or brachytherapy which involves the use of radiation. The latter would have required him to wear a lead apron for six months when close to children, including his two-year-old daughter. Instead, he opted for proton therapy, requiring him to travel 800 miles to Prague as it is not currently available in the UK. “You get strapped into position and the only discomfort is that you have to have a full bladder while they are carrying out the treatment, which is for about 20 minutes,” Jon explained. “But when you look at the bigger picture it’s nothing.” Jon is now calling for a routine screening programme for prostate cancer to be introduced. “I had a PSA test just before the treatment and it was 7.2, four months later it had dropped to 4.2. I just had another one a few days ago and it had gone down to 2.3. I was incredibly lucky but there are others – such as my friend – who aren’t.”
BRAIN CANCER TEEN WAITING FOR PT
Jake Anders, a teen from Plainfield, Illinois, was diagnosed with a brain tumor last December. As he is fighting for his life, his family is fighting to afford the medical treatment he desperately needs.
Jake’s family says proton therapy, which is offered at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, may be the only way to target the tumor that was found in his brain last December. “It’s around his carotid artery in the brain so it’s in a place they can’t operate,” said Jake’s mother, Amy. The teen already underwent radiation therapy for another tumor that was successfully treated back in 2013. However, specialist proton therapy is the safest option for repeated treatments, because it allows to precisely focus the radiation dose to the tumor and spare healthy brain tissue. “With traditional photon radiation, they radiate almost the whole brain,” said Jake. “That will hit the back of my brain to where I had treatments before and will cause brain necrosis which kills off the brain. If I get proton they can target it and I will get minimal damage.” The family’s insurance provider is still determining how much of the therapy it will cover. If the plan denies coverage, the family says they won’t be able to afford the $180,000 upfront cost for the treatment. “We will just have to do the therapy here and hope there might be some type of chemo they can do afterwards,” said Amy.