Today in Europe one person in three contracts a malign tumor at some point in their life, and one in five dies of cancer. The survival rate for cancer patients is currently some 45%, with about 22% cured by surgery, 12% by radiotherapy, and 6% by a combination of both. A further 5% of patients are cured by chemotherapy.
Some 70% of patients had no evident metastasis at the time of diagnosis. As a rule they required local surgery and/or radiotherapy to stop the primary growth, this being a prerequisite for any cure. Unfortunately one patient in six still dies today because primary tumor growth cannot be controlled and subsequently metastasizes. If this could be prevented, the cure rate could rise to 60% – an improvement of some 15% of all cancer patients.
Radiotherapy has seen great improvements in cure rates in recent decades. In the 1960s the rate was just under 30%. The improvement has come about mainly through the ability to increase the dose whilst at the same time decreasing the irradiated area.
Switzerland has 16 radiotherapy centers for cancer, five of them at university hospitals. About 18,000 patients receive radiotherapy in these centers each year.
Progress in oncological radiotherapy stems primarily from technological and physical advances – better radiation dose within the irradiated area – new findings in radiobiology, and improved predictability in the behavior of tumors and surrounding tissue in the individual patient.
Proton therapy has been used – for the most part in physics and technology research centers– for almost fifty years now as a means of tumor control. PSI pioneered the development of this therapy in Europe, with proton irradiation being used for the treatment of cancerous tumors since 1984. By the end of 2011 more than 5,700 patients had been successfully treated for eye tumors at PSI in collaboration with the Hôpital Opthalmique of the University of Lausanne. No other center worldwide has comparable experience in the treatment of this type of tumor with protons.
Worldwide about 80,000 cancer patients have received proton therapy up to now. It has been clearly demonstrated that this form of radiotherapy has considerable potential for improving tumor control and thereby raising the cure rate for cancer patients still further.
Cost-efficiency calculations indicate that proton therapy will in future be able to undercut average cancer treatment costs.