Sheffield medics make strides in cancer fight

One of the first patients to undergo a new treatment, cancer patient Mary Jones
One of the first patients to undergo a new treatment, cancer patient Mary Jones

Cancer patient Mary Jones accepts that, for many people, being told they have the condition is a frightening and worrying experience.

But the 82-year-old is keen to stress that the diagnosis does not necessarily spell the end of a patient’s days - and that undergoing a treatment now being offered at Sheffield’s Weston Park Hospital has allowed her to carry on living life to the full for as long as possible.

Mary, a retired NHS secretary, has a rare type of growth known as a neuroendocrine tumour, which started in her pancreas and has since spread to her bowels, liver and lungs.

Typically her illness does not respond well to standard cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, so alternative therapies are required.

Weston Park Hospital has now started offering two therapies which use targeted radioactive injections to destroy cancer cells in patients with neuroendocrine tumours, as well as men suffering from prostate cancer.

Mary is one of the first people to be given one of the two treatments - dotatate therapy - in Sheffield.

It was previously only offered in Liverpool and London, meaning she can now receive her injections much closer to home.

“Most people are scared when they get the diagnosis, but I am all for anything new that comes out,” said Mary, who lives near Crich in Derbyshire with Gwilym, 85, her husband of more than 60 years.

“This treatment should give me an improved quality of life. I am hoping now I can potter around the garden and I’m hoping I will be able to go to church more often than not.”

She added: “Having cancer does not destroy everything in your life - you can still enjoy reading and music, and it opens your eyes to the kindness of strangers, like the staff at the hospital and how much they want to help.”

Mary said her condition was diagnosed in 2010, following a long wait to discover the cause of her symptoms.

“Because I’ve got a rare cancer they can’t operate or give me chemotherapy, and because of where the tumour is they couldn’t offer me radiotherapy,” she said.

Dotatate therapy is given to patients with neuroendocrine tumours.

These relatively rare tumours arise from cells of the hormonal and nervous systems, most commonly affecting the bowel, the pancreas and the lung.

Patients are injected with high doses of a radioactive substance which attaches to cells within the tumours.

The short-lived radioactivity then destroys the malignant cells.

Meanwhile the second treatment, Xofigo, is used to treat advanced forms of prostate cancer which has spread to the bones, causing pain.

The therapy works by injecting a mildly radioactive form of the metal radium into the blood.

This then finds its way to the bones, where it is more likely to be absorbed by active cancer cells.

Once absorbed, the radioactivity destroys cancerous cells without damaging healthy tissue.

Dr Jonathan Wadsley, a consultant oncologist at Weston Park Hospital, said the treatments’ full benefits have only come to light in recent years.

“Radioactive isotopes have been used in the treatment of thyroid cancer for many years, but it is only recently that this type of treatment has been found to benefit patients with other cancers,” he said.

“Both dotatate therapy and Xofigo form part of a new wave of cutting-edge cancer treatments that minimise damage to other healthy cells using targeted radioisotope cancer therapies.”

He said cancer specialists had worked closely with Sheffield Teaching Hospitals’ nuclear medicine team to bring the treatments to the city.

Dr Wadsley added that the trust had a ‘long history of safely administering radioactive treatments to improve the quality of patients’ lives.’

The launch of the new therapies coincides with the official opening of a recently refurbished nuclear medicine therapy suite at Weston Park.

Mary said the helpful and caring attitude of the hospital’s staff did much to put her at ease.

“People should not be frightened because the staff are fantastic.

“I had nurses with me all day and a consultant came to check on me.

“They were all so professional and approachable. They talk you through how it might affect you so you don’t feel isolated at all.

“Personally I think they’re making great strides in cancer treatment now.”