Neighbours met for first time having proton beam therapy in US

Press release posted 07 February 2017

Two cancer patients who travelled to America for cutting edge proton beam therapy on their tumours found they had more in common than their life-saving treatment – they discovered they were actually neighbours back home in Bolton.

Kath Quinn, 68, a retired teaching assistant who lives on Chorley Old Road and Michael Saunders, 71, also retired and who lives just metres away on nearby Doffcocker Lane met for the first time during their treatment in Jacksonville, Florida and they have remained friends ever since.

Both were patients at specialist cancer hospital The Christie in Manchester and their consultants had recommended them for proton beam therapy (PBT), a specialist form of radiotherapy currently not available in the UK.

PBT uses a precision high-energy beam of particles to destroy cancer cells and has better targeting and fewer side effects than traditional radiotherapy. Currently the NHS sends people needing PBT to the United States or Switzerland, but from 2018 The Christie will be treating patients in Manchester with this cutting edge technique. It will be the first UK centre to offer the treatment. University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust will open a second centre in 2020. 

Both Kath and Michael have joined a panel of former Christie patients who have received proton beam therapy overseas. The group share their experiences and ideas to help shape plans for the treatment and care that will be offered at the new centre in Manchester.

Mother-of-four Kath, who was diagnosed with a hard-to-reach tumour in a passage behind her nose, said: “I never wanted to go to America, but the treatment I had there was superb.

“We met another patient from Manchester while we were there, Michael, and it turned out he lives round the corner from us in Bolton! We have kept in touch after returning home.”

Because of where Kath’s tumour was situated, proton beam therapy was recommended to try to avoid damage to the optic nerve and pituitary gland. NHS England agreed to fund the treatment and in January 2016 Kath and husband Tony flew to Florida for the treatment. They stayed in an apartment 16 miles from the hospital where she underwent 39 treatments over several weeks.

Her neighbour Michael, who is a widower with two daughters, was diagnosed with a skull-based tumour on top of his pituitary gland. In February 2016 Michael flew to the USA to have PBT. He spent 11 weeks there and was accompanied by his youngest daughter Kerry and underwent 41 sessions of proton beam therapy, each lasting around half an hour.

Michael said: “I met other patients from England there including Kath from Bolton and we had a little UK group. We’d go for meals together and so forth. The hospital was great, it’s a fantastic facility but it’s good that this treatment is coming to Manchester soon. If the proton therapy had been in Manchester, so close to home, it would have made things a great deal easier for me and my daughters.”

Both Kath and Michael are in remission following their PBT treatment and are telling their stories to mark World Cancer Day on Saturday February 4.

The Christie proton beam therapy centre is expected to open in Autumn 2018 and will treat up to 750 patients per year at full capacity.

The Christie NHS Foundation Trust has been ranked ‘Outstanding’ by the health regulator the Care Quality Commission which referred to it as ‘exceptional’ and ‘a leader in its field’. The CQC commended the Trust not only for its effectiveness and care but also for its work in shaping the future of cancer care, noting the reach and influence of its clinical research projects.