Scientists in Berlin have pioneered a new “carbon ion therapy” which will fire carbon ions at 73% of the speed of light for the extremely precise treatment of inoperable tumors. However, as an astute commenter points out, German patients will probably have to come to America if they ever want to receive this treatment.
MEDICAL scientists will soon be able to offer cancer patients a radical new treatment using hugely accelerated ion particles to target tumours precisely without the dangerous side- effects of current procedures.
The carbon-ion therapy accelerates ions to up to 73 per cent of the speed of light in a synchrotron – a machine similar to the particle accelerator at the CERN laboratory in Switzerland – before beams are fired into patients’ cancerous cells.
Dr Juergen Debus, the chief radiologist at the Heidelberg Ion Beam Therapy Centre (HIT) in Germany, where the treatment will first be available, claimed the process turned the carbon ions into “miniature precision-guided missiles” that can destroy cancer cells with pin-point accuracy.
It was built in response to the success of a development project in nearby Darmstadt in which cancer patients treated showed a 96 per cent survival rate after three years.
“This is a milestone in the development of significantly better cancer therapies than we had before,” said Dr Debus.
“Most of our patients won’t lose their hair or even feel at all unwell because we are getting the beam to exactly where it needs to be, so healthy organs aren’t being affected,” she said.
The method will be used to tackle complicated and inoperable tumours such as those in the head or spinal cord. The cost will be about £13,000 per session.
The process will also be used to treat prostate cancer without causing impotence or incontinence, and will help to reduce the risk of radiation side-effects on children.
Patients sit in a small circular room at one end of the gantry, their bodies wrapped in self-hardening plastic bandages to restrict movement, while doctors and technicians use a computer map of the affected area to target the beam.
The unique treatment means patients are unlikely to suffer a relapse because the much more accurately targeted and powerful carbon ions cause double rather than single “strength breaks” in the tumour’s DNA, killing the cancer more effectively than existing therapies.
“With carbon therapy the same energy can have three times the biological kill. This makes many people really quite excited about it.”
He claimed the difference between the new precision therapy and existing others, was “like the difference between a dart and a blunderbuss”.