Cancer patients in Belgium need no longer travel abroad to undergo proton beam therapy, with the opening of a new treatment centre at the Leuven university hospital, UZ Leuven.
Proton beam therapy is used to treat the most intractable tumours. The proton beams are more accurate than conventional radiotherapy, and the beams are less harmful than X-rays to the surrounding tissues.
However the treatment is expensive, and until now was not available in Belgium. The only way for cancer patients to get the therapy they need was to travel to the United Kingdom, which has one facility in Manchester, and Germany has six, which treat patients from all over Europe.
Other centres were available in the Netherlands, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. The cost of treatment was met by the medical insurance system, but the travel involved was a burden for patients and their families.
Construction of the Leuven facility started in 2016 and the centre treated its first patient in July. There are now seven patients undergoing proton therapy.
According to the current scientific knowledge on proton therapy, some 100-200 patients a year in Belgium could be eligible for the treatment. However, the hospital said, that number could increase if new applications for the therapy prove promising.
“The treatment of the first patients went smoothly, thanks to our enthusiastic care workers and medical radiation physicists, who have received extensive training in working with the new equipment,” said Dr Jean-François Daisne, head of the radiotherapy-oncology department at UZ Leuven.
The centre at the Gasthuisberg campus of the hospital is particular in having two particle accelerators, one for patient therapy and the other for research. In other centres, research can only take place at night or at weekends.
The research half of the centre will come into use later in the year, the hospital said.
The project has been named PARTICLE, short for Particle Therapy Inter-university Centre Leuven, and is a clinical and scientific partnership between six university hospitals and their network hospitals.
“A partnership between six university hospitals across the language border has never before been seen in Belgium,” said Dr. Xavier Geets, head of radiation oncology at Cliniques universitaires Saint-Luc, one of the participating hospitals.
“All of the experts involved come together each Monday to discuss one or more patient cases.”
“Collaboration is an evolution we are seeing everywhere across the clinical and scientific world,” said Professor Wim Robberecht, chief executive of UZ Leuven.
“Sharing financial input and scientific knowledge is the best way of delivering innovative technologies to our patients in a sustainable way.”