Proton Beam treatment

Particle accelerators that can blast tumours with pinpoint accuracy are entering the medical mainstream.

When five-year-old Alex Barnes was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour the conventional options were bleak: surgery, followed by radiotherapy, with a strong chance of serious brain damage.

Fortunately, there was another choice. Thanks to the generosity of friends and relatives, the parents of the Leicestershire child were able to afford to take him to the US to receive proton therapy: a highly targeted, particle physics-based treatment that has a number of compelling advantages over traditional non-invasive approaches. In September 2010, two years after his treatment, Alex was given the all-clear and doctors believe there is now little chance of the tumour returning.

Proton therapy is one of a suite of socalled particle-therapy treatments that use equipment more readily associated with large physics experiments to hurl highly energised atomic particles or ions at cancer cells with pinpoint accuracy.

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