A MINEHEAD cancer survivor is starring in a new campaign to highlight the benefits of proton therapy.
Barry Hodge, 72, was devastated to be told he had prostate cancer shortly after his 70th birthday.
Doctors in the UK him he would need to undergo gruelling external photon radiotherapy and hormone therapy in a bid to tackle the disease.
But faced with a long list of side effects, Barry decided to travel to the Czech Republic for pioneering cancer therapy instead.
And now, cancer-free, he says the Proton Therapy Center in Prague saved his life.
In a video for Proton Therapy UK - the UK arm of the state-of-the-art centre - Barry says: “I can’t speak highly enough of the PTC in Prague. They are the best in the world - they saved my life.”
In the UK, one in eight men will get prostate cancer at some point in their lives, making it the most common male cancer. Each year around 11,000 men die from the disease.
Barry said: “When they told me I had cancer I was devastated, it was awful. I didn’t know what to do.
“I was concerned about what damage radiotherapy could do, especially to the internal organs.”
Traditional external beam radiotherapy involves blasting cancerous cells with high-energy X-rays to kill them - but it can also damage healthy cells.
Proton beam therapy works by accelerating protons until they reach half the speed of light and then targeting them at cancer cells.
Unlike traditional radiotherapy, it can pin-point the exact area to target, preserving healthy tissue in front of the tumour and preventing damage to the tissue behind it.
The technology is not currently available in the UK, meaning Barry had no choice but to look at treatment abroad.
“My son Robert started investigating proton therapy,” he said. “He found that America and certain other countries, including Prague, had great success rates. But in his view Prague came out as the world’s most advanced hospital for tfor prostate cancer.”
“With regard to the NHS not providing proton therapy, I suppose it’s due to their financial problems. I
“I’m rather disappointed, being a paid-up member of the NHS for 40 years, but what’s more important? Your life, or having invasive radiotherapy?”
Barry underwent 21 sessions in Prague over the course of a month with his family by his side. After four weeks his doctors told him the tumour had disappeared.
“It lasted for about an hour every morning and after that, we’d go out and do whatever we wanted for the rest of the day,” he said.
“Some of my fellow patients used to jog back to their hotel, so I can say there was nothing invasive about the treatment whatsoever.”
Barry covered the cost of his treatment - around £30,000 - privately, but a growing number of UK insurance companies are covering proton therapy treatment overseas.
Dr Jiri Kubes, medical director of the Proton Therapy Center, said: “We are seeing a growing number of patients coming to us from the UK, many of whom are in the same position as Barry.
“They have been diagnosed with cancer and are recommended for courses of radiotherapy treatment, but this treatment has the potential to cause a long list of side effects.
“Understandably, they want to avoid these side effects at all costs.”