Proton power propels cancer collaboration at Westmead

Westmead Hospital Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre’s Radiation Oncology director Associate Professor Verity Ahern with Netherlands University Medical Centre Groningen Radiation Oncology chair and chair of the Board Professor Hans Langendijk.

A world-leading proton therapy expert has visited Westmead Hospital to share insights with radiation oncology doctors, physicists and radiation therapists.

In his first-ever visit to Sydney, Professor Hans Langendijk, Netherlands University Medical Centre Groningen, Radiation Oncology chair and chair of the Board, spoke with the radiation oncology team at Westmead Hospital’s Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre.

Proton therapy, a form of particle therapy, is an internationally recognised standard of radiation treatment for people with cancer, delivering beams of radiation using protons.

“Proton therapy was introduced in the Netherlands last year, with three centres now offering the therapy and more than 300 patients in the Netherlands have been treated so far,” said Prof Langendijk.

Prof Langendijk said proton therapy is particularly beneficial for patients with cancers close to vital organs such as the brain, spinal cord or heart, including head and neck cancers and cancers in the lung.

“The majority of patients we have treated so far have experienced fewer side effects from treatment, with less radiation to surrounding healthy tissue and organs,” said Prof Langendijk.

Westmead Hospital’s Crown Princess Mary Cancer, director of Radiation Oncology Centre, Clinical Associate Professor Verity Ahern, said she was delighted to host the visit by Prof Langendijk on his way to the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists’ Annual Scientific Meeting in New Zealand.

“It was beneficial to hear about how cancer patients overseas are being selected for proton therapy and to learn from the experiences of our international counterparts,” said Dr Ahern.

Associate Professor Verity Ahern and Professor Hans Langendijk at the Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre.

Currently, proton therapy is not available in Australia and patients need to travel overseas, with some Federal Government support available through the Medical Treatment Overseas Program.

However, construction has just begun for a treatment centre in Adelaide in South Australia.

Dr Ahern is leading national efforts though The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Radiologists (RANZCR) to ensure the Australian workforce is ready to treat cancer patients with protons using national protocols.

The Westmead Health Precinct National Particle Therapy Steering Committee, co-chaired by Dr Ahern, is working with interstate colleagues to progress discussions on proton therapy.

“In the short-term, I’m keen to adopt Prof Langendijk’s ground-breaking Model Based Approach at Westmead Hospital, to refine the way we are selecting eligible patients for future proton therapy treatment,” said Dr Ahern.

“An electronic registry of eligible patients is another initiative I hope to introduce across Australia and New Zealand, enabling radiation oncologists to share information with international colleagues and ensure the right cancer patients are treated by proton therapy to world standards.

“By bringing together the international radiation oncology community, we can learn from each other to ensure we are ready to treat cancer patients with proton therapy if this is approved locally,” Dr Ahern said.

The Westmead Health Precinct is one of the largest health, education, research and training precincts in Australia and a key provider of jobs for the greater Parramatta and western Sydney region.

Spanning 75 hectares, the precinct includes four hospitals, four world-leading medical research institutes, two university campuses and the largest research-intensive pathology service in NSW.

For more information about proton therapy, please visit or for more information about the Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, visit