Four bowel cancer sufferers recently underwent the first treatments with the new Papillon radiotherapy machine at St Luke’s Cancer Centre, Royal Surrey County Hospital, Guildford. The hospital is the first in the south of England to offer this kind of treatment for bowel cancer – a unique form of radiotherapy which offers an alternative to life changing surgery. Patients with very low rectal cancer would traditionally have been treated with major abdominal surgery, involving a life-long colostomy bag. Treatment with the Papillon machine provides contact radiotherapy, which means patients can receive a higher radiation dose with less risk of damage to the surrounding tissue. 

Bowel cancer is the third most common cancer in the UK and more than 16,000 people die from it every year. There are approximately 8,000 rectal cancers diagnosed each year and up to a third of these tumours might be suitable for the Papillon treatment.

The roll out of the National Bowel Cancer Screening programme (Guildford is the centre for the South of England for testing patients) is likely to discover more cancers at an early stage than previously many of which will be suitable for the Papillon technique.

Professor Marks, founder of GUTS, added, “The treatment of the first patients with a Papillon machine at the Royal Surrey is a huge development and our investment in its provision is part of our continued aim to improve the survival and quality of life (by reducing the necessity for stomas) for people with bowel cancer.”

Local bowel cancer charities BRIGHT & GUTS undertook a major fundraising campaign to raise the £200k required to purchase the Papillon machine for the hospital. It is the first hospital in the south of England to offer this kind of treatment; patients previously had to travel to Liverpool (the Clatterbridge Centre for Oncology) for treatment.

Dr Alexandra Stewart, consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Surrey County Hospital and chairman of BRIGHT commented:

“At the Royal Surrey we want to offer cutting edge radiotherapy as close to our patients’ homes as possible. The provision of a Papillon machine is the first step towards this. The Papillon machine is important because it offers patients a choice about how their cancer is treated. If you’ve been diagnosed with early stage bowel cancer, treatment with a Papillon machine is an option everyone should have the chance to explore as it is an alternative to life-changing surgery. With our machine in place, patients from Surrey, Sussex and Hampshire (as well as further afield) can now consider and easily access this treatment.”

Mr Prebble (age 87, from Haslemere, Surrey) was one of the first patients treated with the Papillon machine at the Royal Surrey. “I was already scheduled to have the major surgery and a colostomy bag when a scan revealed that conventional radiotherapy had shrunk the tumour to a level which made me an ideal candidate for Papillon treatment. It was a great relief to me and my family that I didn’t have to go through major surgery at my age. The treatment itself was fairly straightforward and I had very few side effects. I can’t thank Dr Stewart and the rest of the team at the St Luke’s Cancer Centre enough for offering this option to me.”

Mr Harrison (age 67, from Beare Green, Surrey) was another of the first patients treated. “What’s amazing about the Papillon treatment is that it is all over and done with in just 30 minutes. I had three treatment sessions and they caused me very few problems. I’m so pleased this option was available to me and I can’t thank Dr Stewart, Professor Rockall and all the team at St Luke’s enough for their expertise, kindness and support.”