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Laryngectomy developments

Proton Beam Therapy

Proton therapy is a type of radiotherapy that stays focused on the tumor shape and delivers only low doses (and therefore side-effects) to surrounding tissues.


There are two groups of cancer patients who stand to benefit most from this: those who require doses to be increased gradually to very high levels, and those whose cancers are surrounded by tissues, such as the brain or eye, which might be damaged severely by conventional radiotherapy. The latter group includes patients with head and neck cancer, including laryngeal cancer.


The Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, USA, was the first place to develop this treatment, and there are now several centres around the world. The UK Department of Health announced its intention to establish 2-3 such centres here four years ago, and a competition resulted in University College Hospital London and Christie Hospital Manchester being chosen as sites.


However, since the financial crisis, release of funding has become delayed, and there may now only be sufficient resources for one UK centre, although clearly one is better than none. One small beneficial effect of this delay is that in the meantime the size and cost of machines (see picture) has reduced, whilst the technology has improved.


It is hoped the facility will be open for business in about two years’ time and head and neck cancer patients, including those with laryngeal cancer, will be some of the first in line to benefit.


Trials are needed, but there is every hope that this new form of radiotherapy may permit the preservation of some people’s larynxes where previously they might have had to undergo laryngectomy. Hence, a final government announcement on funding should be very eagerly awaited by doctors who treat laryngeal cancer.


Martin Birchall



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