CANCER sufferers will be given greater access to a pioneering form of treatment as a leading centre looks to expand in Ireland.
Earlier this year the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic, announced details of a dedicated team set-up specifically to handle requests from Irish patients following a sharp rise in enquiries over the course of 12 months.
And now the Center - which specialises in offering a pioneering, less invasive form of radiotherapy - says they're actively looking to expand their network by engaging with medical professionals in key areas like Dublin as they hope to 'bridge the gap' in cancer care.
Medical director Dr Jiri Kubes says their specialists will 'share their experiences of proton therapy' in a bid to make access to the technology 'smoother'.
Proton therapy itself - which is not available in Ireland - uses an accelerated beam of positively-charged particles to attack cancerous cells and is proving especially effective in the treatment of prostate cancer.
Dr Kubes said: “The general public is becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of proton therapy, and we are seeing a growing number of patients from Ireland enquiring about what proton therapy can do for them.
“Most of the enquiries are from patients with prostate cancer who are looking for treatments which preserve bowel and sexual functions.”
Traditional treatment options for prostate cancer - the most common male cancer in Irish men - can often lead to erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence.
Unlike traditional radiotherapy using X-rays, proton therapy can pin-point the precise area to target, preserving healthy tissue surrounding the tumour while reducing toxicities and minimising harmful side-effects.
Dr Kubes added: “In the last four years, since the centre opened, we have achieved excellent results and are excited to be able to share our knowledge so that patients in Ireland can directly benefit and proton therapy will become more readily accessible.”
John O’Kelly, 68, from Limerick, was one Irish patient diagnosed with prostate cancer two years ago after experiencing a sudden and frequent need to visit the bathroom.
John was advised to ‘watch and wait’ to see how his cancer progressed.
But frustrated with advice and determined to carry on living life to the full, John travelled to the Proton Therapy Center for treatment.
John said: “I wasn’t happy. I just thought ‘This isn’t me’, I’m not used to sitting and doing nothing.
“I thought it was only going to go one way, and by then I might have no option but to have fairly aggressive treatments, which I did not want to do.
“I had already read about how surgery could leave you with incontinence.”
John was treated with five hyper fractions over a two-week period, going in for treatment every other day.
He said: “They were reassuring and very professional and put me at ease from the word go.”
John says he’s now cancer-free and has no regrets about seeking healthcare elsewhere.
Dr Kubes adds: “Establishing a presence in Ireland is a key part of our development as we expand the number of patients we treat from overseas.
“We have a dedicated team on hand to accommodate patients from Ireland to assist them in understanding proton therapy and all of the possible treatments available.
“With flights from Dublin to Prague taking a little over two hours and two new proton therapy centres currently being built in Manchester and London, proton therapy is becoming more accessible to Irish patients than ever.”
The Proton Therapy Center in Prague was established in 2012 and has seen a growing interest from world healthcare specialists as well as healthcare providers.
Within two years they launched a two-shift operation in response to growing demand and now treat thousands of patients each year from more than 25 different countries.
"We are seeing a growing number of patients from Ireland enquiring about what proton therapy can do for them."
Dr Jiri Kubes