A new cancer treatment using carbon ions may help stop the spread of pleural mesothelioma tumours.

What is carbon ion therapy?

Carbon ion therapy is similar to proton therapy. The treatment involves a particle accelerator hitting the cancer with carbon ions, which damages the DNA. The therapy is particularly beneficial to patients with tumours that are resistant to radiation (i.e. through radiotherapy) because the ions are heavier, and therefore have more destructive energy.

The treatment was originally developed in America in the 1970s, but is currently only available in a number of countries outside the U.S.

What did the study find?

In an article in ‘Oncotarget,’ researchers from a carbon-ion therapy treatment centre in Chiba, Japan, concluded that the therapy is effective against mesothelioma. The treatment suppressed ‘cell viability,’ and adding cisplatin (a chemotherapy drug), ‘significantly enhanced its action.’

The therapy, unlike conventional cancer treatments, also has a lower risk of damaging healthy cells and tissues. When the ions hit the tumours, most of the energy is dispersed, and so healthy cells are less likely to be affected. This is particularly good news for pleural mesothelioma patients, as their tumours are close to the lungs and heart.

Where can you find carbon ion therapy?

Sadly, you cannot access carbon ion therapy in the UK. However, there are active carbon therapy treatment centres in Japan, Germany, Italy, China and Australia. There are also more under construction.

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Sai, S, et al, “Effects of carbon ion beam alone or in combination with cisplatin on malignant mesothelioma cells in vitro”, March 13, 2018, Oncotarget

Blaustein, Richard, “The Future of Carbon Therapy”, May 26, 2017, Bioengineering Today

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