Hopes are raised for a new $170 million proton beam centre in Australia after an alliance was formed between a Brisbane hospital and Sydney proton company.
Australia is one step closer to having its first proton therapy facility after an alliance was formed to bring the cancer treatment to Brisbane.
Australians now have to travel to the United States, Europe, Japan and China to receive proton therapy – the next generation of radiotherapy that is used for various forms of cancer in children and tumours of the eye and base of the skull.
The therapy targets tumours with high accuracy and has a low risk of side effects, experts say.
But it also comes with a high price tag.
Sydney-based company Proton Therapy Australia (PTA) and Mater Health Services, a public and private collocated hospital and health-care provider, have announced they expect to treat the first patient at the Mater in 2017.
The comments come after the parents of British boy Ashya King made headlines when they removed their son from a UK hospital because he had not been offered proton therapy to treat his brain tumour.
The parents were briefly detained after they took him out of the country to a Czech clinic for treatment.
PTA director Sue Bleasel said she has been working to bring proton therapy to Australia for the past 16 years.
Now we have a clinical partner it’s time to finalise many years of discussion and negotiation with investors – $170 million is required, she said.
Melbourne mum Sue Anderson, a patient advocate, took her five-year-old daughter to the Florida Proton Therapy Institute in 2011 after she was diagnosed with a brain tumour.
She described the possibility of proton therapy being available in Australia as an “exciting and necessary development.
Increasing the access to protons in Australia for pediatric patients provides great long-term benefit to families and the medical and education system by reducing the late effects of conventional treatments, she said.
Clinical Oncology Society of Australia president Associate Professor Sandro Porceddu, who advises the Cancer Council Australia on proton therapy, said there is a need for a treatment unit in Australia.
Proton therapy offers some advantages over conventional radiotherapy for specific cancers, he said.
This includes tumours of the brain that are located near critical structures, such as the eyes, where highly precise delivery of radiotherapy can be given with little dose to surrounding structures.
This will limit the risks of radiation damage, such as blindness.
In addition, because of the lower radiation dose to surrounding normal tissues, there is a reduced risk of radiation-induced cancers, which is of particular relevance to children having treatment, where these cancers can develop many decades after treatment.
But he said proton therapy was a costly treatment and benefits over conventional radiotherapy in other cancers, such as prostate cancer, are not proved. It costs about $170 million to establish a treatment centre, although these costs are falling with newer generation machines.
Estimates suggest about 1000 patients in Australia would benefit from proton therapy, he said.
Based on this, there is a need for one of these treatment units in Australia.
Regardless of where a treatment unit is installed, the important aspect is that it forms part of a national access program, whereby all patients, regardless of geography, will have equity of access providing they have the suitable tumour for this form of treatment.