A cancer treatment at the centre of an NHS debate in 2014 causes fewer side effects in children than regular radiotherapy- according to new research, proton beam therapy is suggested to be as effective as other treatments.

In 2014, the parents of Ashya King took him out of hospital in Hampshire where he was receiving cancer treatment- to get the treatment abroad. Their actions lead to a police operation to find them. Ashya, who was just 5 at the time is now cancer free.

All of the patients who agreed to take part in the study had the most common type of brain tumour in children- known as medulloblastoma. After 5 years, their survival rate was similar to that of patients treated with conventional X-ray radiotherapy but the side effect to the heart and lungs was much fewer. Proton radiotherapy resulted in acceptable toxicity and had similar survival rate to those noted with conventional radiotherapy, suggesting that the use of the treatment may be an alternative to photon-based treatments.

Proton beam therapy is currently only available in the UK to treat eye cancers, but patients with other forms of cancer can apply for NHS funding for the therapy abroad. The first proton beam facility in the UK is due to be made available in Newport by the end of 2016.

The department of health has said that from April 2018 the treatment will be offered to up to 1,500 cancer patients at hospitals in London and Manchester, following investment worth £250million.

How proton beam technology works-

It uses charged particles instead of X-rays to deliver radiotherapy for cancer patients. The treatment allows high-energy protons to be targeted directly at a tumour, reducing the dose to surrounding tissues and organs. In general, it gives fewer side effects compared with high-energy X-ray treatments. It can be used to treat spinal cord tumours, sarcomas near the spine or brain, prostate cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer and some children's cancer.