A CARDIGAN man has become one of the first patients in the UK - and the first in Wales under the NHS - to receive pioneering high-energy proton beam therapy.

Ryan Scott, 23, from Cardigan, underwent treatment for a brain tumour (grade 1 cranio pharyngioma) at the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales private clinic in Newport as part of an agreement with NHS Wales.

Ryan, who works for his dad's timber frame business, first noticed something was wrong last April when he started suffering headaches and neck pain.

Hi aunt, who is a nurse, told his mum to take him to A&E at Haverfordwest and it was then that an MRI scan found the tumour, behind the optic nerve.

"I had one operation but they could not get all the tumour out," said Ryan.

"I went home but then had a couple of seizures and an emergency operation to drain fluid and then further surgery but they could still not get it all."

His surgeon suggested proton beam therapy but it looked like Ryan would have to travel to the States to undergo the specialist treatment.

However, the recently-opened Rutherford cancer therapy centre in Newport was then given the go ahead to take NHS patients. And so in February, Ryan became the first.

Ryan said: “I was very pleased when my consultant recommended proton beam therapy and told me that it was available close to home in South Wales.

“I was due to be treated with proton beam therapy over the course of eight weeks in the United States, a disruption I was not looking forward to.

“Happily, however, the agreement between NHS Wales and the Rutherford Cancer Centres was struck just in time for me to be treated a short drive from home.

“The process of undergoing proton beam therapy was much better than anticipated. There have been hardly any side effects and being able to sleep in my bed after a day’s treatment is a real plus.”

Ryan started his treatment on February 4 and finished on March 15.

He underwent 30 treatments during the six-week period and will undergo a scan in the next couple of weeks to discover how successful it has been.

"I feel so lucky to be the first NHS patient in Wales to undergo the treatment," added Ryan.

"I have asked them how it works and they have explained but I still don't really understand! It's so clever and a lot less invasive than other treatments.

"I am just waiting now for the results and hopefully it is good news. I am feeling so much better."

Vaughan Gething AM, Welsh Government Minister for Health and Social Services, officially opened the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales yesterday (April 9).

Mr Gething said: “It was the first facility in the UK to offer proton beam therapy for cancer patients, and an excellent example of the development of new cancer therapies, here in Wales. It’s a perfect illustration of how we are working collaboratively to deliver technological innovations to improve treatment for patients.”

The centre is part of a nationwide network that provides state-of-the-art cancer services including imaging, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, radiotherapy and high energy proton beam therapy.

The Newport centre was recently approved by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee (WHSSC) to provide high energy proton beam therapy to adult patients referred from the NHS in Wales.

The centre also treated the first patient in the UK with proton beam therapy in April last year.

Mike Moran, chief executive of Proton Partners International which operates the Rutherford Cancer Centres, said: “It is gratifying to see UK oncologists becoming increasingly aware of proton therapy and embracing the treatment. Our collaborative partnership with the NHS in Wales means that adult patients have an option to be treated closer to home.

“I am delighted by the support we have received from the Health Minister, the Welsh Government, the Wales Life Sciences Investment Fund and the NHS in Wales which has meant that Wales has been the pioneer in proton beam therapy in the UK.

“Patient demand is increasing and it is encouraging that the UK is beginning to catch up with Europe in the provision of this therapy.”

What is proton beam therapy?

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that uses a beam of high energy protons, which are small parts of atoms, rather than high energy x-rays (called “photons”) to treat specific types of cancer.

Proton beam therapy enables a dose of high energy protons to be precisely targeted at a tumour, reducing the damage to surrounding healthy tissues and vital organs which is an advantage in certain groups of patients or where the cancer is close to a critical part of the body.

Proton beam therapy is only suitable for certain types of cancer, such as highly complex brain, head and neck cancers and sarcomas as it does not lead to better outcomes for many cancer cases than using high energy x-rays, which is still considered the most appropriate and effective treatment for the majority of cancers.

Like high energy x-ray radiotherapy, proton beam therapy is painless, but patients may experience side effects similar to those experienced from other forms of radiotherapy.

Doctors may use proton therapy alone. They may also combine it with x-ray radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.

A machine called a synchrotron or cyclotron speeds up protons. The high speed of the protons creates high energy. This energy makes the protons travel to the desired depth in the body. The protons then give the targeted radiation dose in the tumour. With proton therapy, there is less radiation dose outside of the tumour