This site is optimised for modern browsers. For the best experience, please use Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

East of England patient takes part in UK-first proton beam therapy trial for breast cancer

Image of Kim

A patient from Cambridgeshire has become one of the first in the UK to take part in a trial testing the benefits of proton beam therapy for certain patients with breast cancer.

Kim, 44, a mother of two and a school caterer from Ely, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2022 after noticing thickening of the skin and painful twinges in her left breast.

Her GP referred her for urgent scans at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (CUH). After having mammograms, ultrasounds and biopsies, the diagnosis was confirmed two weeks later.

Her treatment plan of chemotherapy and mastectomy surgery soon followed. After this was completed, Kim was told about the PARABLE trial which, due to a pre-existing heart condition, she learnt she may be eligible to take part in.

In the PARABLE trial, researchers are comparing proton beam therapy with standard radiotherapy for patients who are at greater risk of long-term heart problems after radiotherapy treatment.

Proton beam therapy uses charged particles instead of x-rays to target tumours more precisely. Researchers hope it will allow doctors to deliver the required dose of radiotherapy where it is needed and minimise the dose of radiation delivered to the heart.

The PARABLE trial is funded by a Medical Research Council (MRC) and National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) partnership. It is being led by researchers at The University of Cambridge, The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust.

Kim had a CT scan to ensure she was eligible and was randomised to receive the proton beam therapy rather than radiotherapy, saying she was “over the moon” to be part of the trial.

Kim started proton beam therapy in October 2022 at The Christie in Manchester. Treatment took place over the course of three weeks, with fifteen sessions, each lasting approximately 45 minutes.

“The whole team were so lovely, very welcoming and made me feel at home when I was far from home. They explained everything very well and I met up with the doctor once a week to see how treatment was going.”

At the end of each week Kim had to fill out a simple questionnaire about any side effects she experienced during and after treatment, for a total of 12 weeks. Another survey will be completed six months after treatment and followed up yearly.

“All the treatment I have had so far would have been in a trial at some point, so I’m just grateful to all those people who have taken part in research over the years to help find the best treatments.

“I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to take part in the trial and pleased with all the treatment that I’ve had to date. I’m looking forward to the future and I’m feeling pretty optimistic about everything.”

Professor Charlotte Coles, Professor of Breast Cancer Clinical Oncology at the University of Cambridge and NIHR Research Professor, is the Chief Investigator of the PARABLE trial. She said:

“Standard breast cancer radiotherapy is really effective in most cases, but there is a small group of patients who have a slightly higher than average lifetime risk of heart problems later in life due to radiotherapy – around 2%  or more – and for those patients, proton beam therapy may be a better option.

“Although only a small group of patients are affected by this risk, it can still be serious. Often these patients are treated with radiotherapy when they are young and have many years of life ahead of them, and we don’t want to give them the legacy of heart problems in later life.

“The PARABLE trial is a real working demonstration of team science at every level with input from people in many different areas of expertise, including patient advocates.”

Precision treatment methods and targeted therapies will underpin care at Cambridge Cancer Research Hospital (CCRH), the new specialist cancer research hospital for the East of England.

The state-of-the-art facility will house the Precision Breast Cancer Institute, which aims to improve the quality of life for cancer patients by using minimally-invasive technologies to monitor disease progression and a patient’s treatment response.

The new hospital is expected to start construction next year.

Find out more about the PARABLE trial or to find out how to get involved in wider research visit