CANCER patients have been given fresh hope in their fight against the disease after a world-leading treatment centre established a new UK base here in Southampton.

THE Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic, has appointed respected Southampton-based consultant clinical oncologist Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar as medical director of Proton Therapy UK.

Based at University Hospital Southampton, Dr Ramkumar is one of handful of clinicians in Britain trained in proton therapy, a treatment that uses accelerated protons, travelling half the speed of light, directed at cancerous tumours in order to kill them.

Unlike traditional radiotherapy using X-rays, proton therapy can pin-point the precise area to target, preserving healthy tissue surrounding the tumour while reducing toxicities and minimising harmful side-effects.

While it’s rarely available in the UK, it’s been used to successfully treat tumours in the brain, head and neck, skull base, lungs, liver, pelvic tumours and in paediatric cancers.

And not only is Dr Ramkumar working to increase awareness of the benefits of proton therapy among UK doctors, it also means cancer patients in Southampton no longer need to travel to Prague to receive an expert opinion on their proton therapy options.

Dr Ramkumar said: “As it currently stands, patients with prostate cancer make up around 80 per cent of those being treated at most proton therapy centres in the USA and Europe. But there is great scope to use proton therapy in the treatment of other complex cancers, such as skull-base tumours and head and neck cancers”.

“The general public is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of this treatment, and we’re

seeing a growing number of UK patients enquiring about what proton therapy can do to help them.”

“I help to bridge the gap between a treatment British patients need but which is not routinely available in the United Kingdom, while providing them with an evidence-based clinical opinion.”

Proton Therapy Center Prague utilises the latest technology, known as pencil beam scanning, which can target a tumour with pencil-point precision to maximise its effectiveness.

Dr Ramkumar, meanwhile, is an expert in his field and was awarded two fellowships to travel to the US and Europe, where he has become one of the few UK oncologists trained to deliver this cutting-edge science.

Upon his return to Southampton, he has been actively sharing his knowledge on proton therapy to fellow doctors in UK.

Dr Jiri Kubes, Medical Director of the Proton Therapy Center, said: “We are delighted to be working with Dr Ramkumar and look forward to making proton therapy more readily available for UK patients”.

“In the last four years, since the centre opened, we have achieved excellent results and are excited to be able to share our knowledge so that patients in the UK can directly benefit.”

Two new UK government-funded proton therapy centres are currently being built in London and in Manchester, but are not expected to become operational until 2018/19.Until then a very small number of NHS patients are referred overseas for proton therapy.

At present there’s just one proton facility in the UK – at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Wirral, Merseyside – which treats eye tumours only.