UCLH proton beam therapy centre

Proton Beam Therapy: Making sure young people can have lifesaving treatment closer to home


The UK’s newest proton beam therapy centre is now open at University College Hospital, London (UCLH), meaning that more young people will be able to have treatment closer to home.

The £380 million state-of-the-art cancer treatment centre is the second in the UK, with the first opening in 2018 at the Christie in Manchester, and will treat 650 people a year. Previously, patients would have to travel to the US to receive the treatment, though many could not afford to or were too ill to travel.

At the newly opened UCLH centre, the proton beam machine is built into the basement of the hospital and weighs 90 tonnes. The basement area is so large it could fit the entire Royal Albert Hall within it.

Through our partnership with Morgan Stanley, we have a specially designed space with a quiet area, study area and TV and gaming facilities to make young people’s experience as comfortable and enjoyable as possible.

UCLH proton beam therapy centre

Proton beam therapy is at the cutting edge of cancer treatment, providing a more precise way of targeting tumours. Standard radiotherapy delivers a beam of protons in a straight line, hitting the tumour as well as the healthy surrounding tissue. However, proton beam therapy spares the surrounding areas by stopping at the site of the tumour. This means that proton beam is better able to treat tumours in the brain and spinal cord, where damage to the healthy tissue can cause major side effects.

Timothy Bull, 22, was diagnosed with cancer for the second time at 21. He had to travel to the US to receive proton beam therapy as the treatment was not available in the UK at the time.

When he was a teenager, Timothy was diagnosed with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissues. After treatment, he continued to have regular check-ups until a CT scan revealed Ewing’s Sarcoma in his spine.

Timothy Bull

He started chemotherapy on the Teenage Cancer Trust unit at the Royal Marsden, before travelling to Jacksonville, US, to undergo a 10-week proton beam therapy course.

The treatment was a success and avoided damage to the tissues in Timothy’s back and organs.

He said: “It is great that they are offering proton beam therapy at University College Hospital, London. I was in America for around 10 weeks which is a long time to be away from home.

“Having the facilities in England will also mean that more people will be able to have Proton Beam Therapy as at the minute it is expensive to send people abroad so not many people are selected for it, or they must try to fund it themselves.

“It’s also fantastic that Teenage Cancer Trust have designed an enhanced waiting area and social space. It’s important to be distracted by nice activities while going through proton beam therapy so the social space will provide young people the opportunity to do something interesting while going through their treatment and keep their minds busy.

“As I have been on a Teenage Cancer Trust unit, I know how important it is to be surrounded by other people your age who you can discuss your experiences with. Young people using the Teenage Cancer Trust facilities while having proton beam therapy at UCLH are also likely to make friends who they can keep in touch with afterward for support. All of this helps to ensure young people feel less isolated and alone while going through treatment.”