The UK will need 18 proton beam therapy machines to meet the growing demand for a more targeted treatment of cancer.

At the Proton Congress in London, Proton Partners International chief medical officer Professor Karol Sikora said: “The NHS estimates that just 1.5% of cancer patients require proton beam therapy, whereas in the US it is believed that 20% of patients would benefit from the treatment and European studies indicate an estimate of 10-15%.

“In the UK we should work with the 10% figure. The estimated demand for proton machines is based on a capacity per unit of 500 patients every year, and therefore we can calculate that the machine requirement for the UK is around 18 machines.

“This is far more than the 2 currently planned by the NHS which will simply not meet rising demand. To help address this gap in proton beam therapy, Proton Partners International is in the process of building three centres in the UK – in Newport, Northumberland and the third location is still to be announced

Sikora added that the machines that deliver proton beam therapy are usually large and expensive.

Over the last decade, however, there has been a gradual improvement in these machines and the introduction of more compact models onto the market indicates that the treatment is becoming more accessible and affordable.

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Over a thousand clinical studies are in progress and it is likely that further data on long-term toxicity will support a major expansion in this area.

Sikora said: “In the UK there is a huge need to upgrade the routine radiotherapy machines, as many are more than a decade old, but capital is short. We need imaginative new ways to fund state-of-the-art cancer care in the UK and abroad.

“Cancer is a disease that is rising rapidly and the population is ageing. We really need to improve the level of care we give to all our patients. If the UK doesn’t make the right decisions today, we will again fall behind in the quality of cancer treatment we will be able to offer cancer patients in the future.”