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Proton therapy

The National Centre for Eye Proton Therapy

The National Centre for Eye Proton Therapy is a separate clinical facility within The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre NHS Trust based in the Douglas Cyclotron Building and is the only proton therapy facility of its kind in the United Kingdom. 

The Centre was originally sponsored by the Medical Research Council for neutron therapy trials, in which 382 patients were treated. In 1989, funding from Joseph K Douglas (after whom the building is named), the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Cancer Research Campaign and local charities led to the introduction of treatment for tumours in the eye. The 62 MeV proton beam has a maximum range of 31 mm in water, and is eminently suitable for treating any position within the eye. 

Since 1984, the facility has been operating as a part of the Trust and has now treated over 2,000 patients with proton therapy. 

The National Centre for Eye Proton Therapy is specifically concerned with treating cancers within the eye. The most common lesions treated at the Centre are choroidal melanomas, but choroidal haemangiomas, iris melanomas and conjunctival melanomas are also treated. 

The treatment works by sterilising the tumour cells so that they can no longer reproduce. The results vary depending on the size and position of the lesion, but for small lesions the success rate is extremely high. The peculiarity of proton beams, namely precisely controlled penetration depth and sharp profile, is used to limit or indeed avoid damage to critical tissue close to a tumour. 

This is a national facility and patients are referred from all over the United Kingdom and Ireland, with a smaller number from mainland Europe and other continents. 

All patients requiring proton therapy for eye disease are referred to the service by eye tumour specialists at the following four ophthalmological tumour centres:

  • London (St Bartholomew’s Hospital)
  • Liverpool (St Paul's Eye Unit)
  • Sheffield (Royal Hallamshire Hospital)
  • Glasgow (Gartnavel General Hospital)