HCA Hospital Group has five private London hospitals, of which the Harley Street Clinic, based at 81 Harley Street, has the most advanced treatment technology found in the United Kingdom. This was the first hospital to employ the cutting edge CyberKnife robotic radiotherapy system, which tackles tumours often previously considered difficult or impossible to treat and makes chemotherapy and invasive surgery redundant. A handful of such machines will be installed at NHS hospitals within the next few years.
CyberKnife uses a tracking system which allows the delivery of radiation with an accuracy of less than a millimetre, and shoots more than a hundred beams of radiation at tumours. The accuracy allows considerably higher doses of radiation to be used. The system adjusts to movements of the patient due to breathing, allowing the treatment of tumours formerly considered inoperable due to their proximity to major blood vessels. It cannot, however, compensate for movement caused by coughing. Conventional radiotherapy requires twenty or more sessions, while CyberKnife needs as few as three.
The first Briton to benefit from CyberKnife was Robert Ferrant, who had been given only months to live after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a condition suffered by around 7,600 Britons a year that led to the death of <em>Dirty Dancing</em> star, Patrick Swayze. His tumour was wrapped around an artery and had been deemed inoperable. Three gold seeds were inserted to Ferrant’s tumour to guide the laser. He was awake during therapy and said the experience was painless. Other treatments could have extended his life by around three months, but CyberKnife offers the prospect of a cure.
CyberKnife is unsuitable for the treatment of bladder, bowel, stomach and oesophageal cancer due to the thin muscle walls of these organs, but can treat such cancers as that of the head, neck and spine. Using CyberKnife, the Centre Oscar Lambret in Lille was able to treat more than 200 patients who could not otherwise have been treated in 18 months. More than 35,000 people worldwide have benefited from the technology to date. Machines cost between £2 and £3 million, while a lead-lined bunker costs an additional £6 or so.