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UK plays catch-up with $380 million spend on cancer-zapping beams

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's state-run health service is to spend 250 million pounds ($382 million) on two proton beam cancer therapy centers, offering patients the opportunity to receive the modern treatment in London or Manchester from 2018.

Currently, the National Health Service (NHS) sends children and adults needing proton beam therapy (PBT) to the United States, where a dozen such centers are already operational.

Unlike traditional X-rays, PBT can blast tumors without damaging surrounding tissue - a particular benefit when cancer occurs in the brain and in young children, since it reduces the risk of growth deformity, hearing loss and learning problems.

Protons are fundamental particles found inside the atomic nucleus that can be focused much more accurately than X-rays. However, the large accelerators needed to make them are very expensive.

The health ministry said on Thursday it expected to offer PBT to up to 1,500 cancer patients from 2018 at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust in London.

The investment will help put British cancer care on a par with that offered in a number of other industrialized countries. In addition to 12 operating PBT centers in the United States, there are several in Germany, France and Italy.

Some private companies are also looking to build PBT centers in Britain - including Advanced Oncotherapy, which in April acquired a low-cost PBT spin-off from the CERN particle physics centre near Geneva.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler; Editing by David Holmes)

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