News Story, posted on July 21 2011
Cancer mother is denied new cure

THE family of a young mother dying from cervical cancer has begun an appeal to pay for treatment in Turkey after the NHS cancelled the introduction of a radiation machine that the government's own advisers say could save more than 3,000 lives a year.

Ruth White, 27, from Tenby, Pembrokeshire, who has a two-year-old son, was pinning hopes of eradicating her tumour on the £2.5m "cyberknife" machine, which blasts highly targeted radiation into malignant growths without destroying surrounding healthy tissue.

According to a study by the government's National Radiotherapy Implementation Group, published last week, such treatment could save at least 3,200 patients with inoperable tumours every year.

Although it has long been offered in other developed countries, it is still not readily available in Britain.

White's appeal has been launched shortly after speeches by David Cameron, the prime minister, and Andrew Lansley, the health secretary, praising the cyberknife. as an example of new technology in what Cameron called Britain's “world-Ieading, ground breaking hospitals”.

In fact, there are only three cyberknife machines in NHS hospitals. They are all in London and bought by charities. Two others are in private hospitals, also in the capital.

White had expected to be treated in Derriford hospital, Plymouth, which was to install the first NHS cyberknife. The machine has been left in packaging because Derriford has to save £27m.

White, whose son was born as she completed her degree in international politics, has not yet started a career. She was diagnosed in June last year and has had surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. A month ago, however, doctors said the tumour was resistant to treatment and nothing could be done to save her.

“They. had previously discussed the cyberknife, but then they said they didn't think it would work," said White, who lives with her boyfriend, David Price.

"I had asked how long I had left. The doctor asked if I really wanted to know, so I said I didn't. Obviously it's not long."

Cyberknife machines are in regular use in America as well as many parts of Europe including France, Germany and Greece. White has chosen a clinic in Istanbul, which said her case was treatable. "

"We have to raise £20,000 and although it’s stressful because we don't think we have much time, it's going well':' said 'White's sister, Miffany. "We've got about £7,000 so far.”

Velindre cancer centre in Cardiff, which is in charge of White's treatment; said it could not comment on individuals and her health authority in Haverfordwest said it would only fund such treatment if specifically recommended.

Nick Van As, clinical lead for the cyberknife project at the Royal Marsden hospital in London, is hoping to embark on a series of studies with Mount Vernon and St Bart's Hospitals when the equipment is installed this summer.

"Although we are significantly behind other parts of the world where this is a standard piece of kit, there have been relatively few trials to prove its benefits, " he said.

"Where we think it's best is for the treatment of relatively small tumours which are moving about, because it can,track them and deliver high.dose radiation to the tumour without damaging other tissue. That may well include cervical cancers."

Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat MP for Wells and one of a group of MPs lobbying for improved NHS provision of the therapy, said: "It is outrageous that a young woman is apparently being denied a last–ditch chance of survival because the Department of Health has dragged its heels on this proven treatment for so long, simply to save money."

The Department of Health said the treatment was available to suitable patients, but was unable to give details of numbers treated in Britain or referred abroad.

Reported by Lois Rogers in the Sunday Times, July 10 2011