THE only cancer centre north of Manchester to offer patients high energy proton beam therapy has been officially opened.

Rutherford Cancer Centre North East, which cost £35m to build, is only the fourth centre in the the UK to provide patients with an advanced form of cancer treatment.

The treatment, which isn’t yet widely available in the UK, is an advanced form of external radiotherapy which targets precise areas of the body.

Before it opened, patients from the region would have to travel to The Christie Hospital in Manchester, or the Rutherford Cancer Centres in Reading or Newport, South Wales.

Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester, and Jane Percy, Duchess of Northumberland,were at the pioneering complex in Bedlington, Northumberland, for a tour of its state of the art facilities.

The Duke of Gloucester unveiled a plaque inside the centre during the official opening ceremony.

Prince Richard said: “It gives me great pleasure to come here and have this very magnificent task of declaring your new Rutherford Cancer Centre officially open.

“Cancer cure rates are extremely poor considering that we lead the world in cancer research. There are lots of clever people who are learning more and more about cancer and how to cure it. It can only be through applying these principles with the greatest efficiency that we can reverse the statistics.

“Congratulations on having created this splendid building and being part of your system that I am sure will bring greater comfort to your patients.”

The centre, which welcomes a mix of private paying, insured and NHS patients, also provides chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and wellness services.

It has been built to meet patient demand in the North-East, which has some of the highest incidence of cancer in the UK.

The centre has been treating patients since August last year and began offering proton beam therapy two months ago, though it was only officially opened to the public this week .

Mike Moran, Chief Executive Officer of Rutherford Health, showed The Duke of Gloucester and the Duchess of Northumberland around the centre.

He said: “There’s a high incidence of cancer around the North-East and right around the country.

“It means patients won’t have to travel a long distance to receive their proton beam therapy treatment.

“We’re treating people closer to home and that’s an important part of their recovery.”

Centre manager Chris Land said they can treat 350-500 patients per year for proton beam therapy, 500 for radiotherapy and 1,000 for chemotherapy.

He said: “It’s the only centre in the region that can offer high energy proton beam therapy. It is one of only four in the UK and as an organisation we have three of them.

“It’s all about giving alternative choices to patients in their fight and battle against cancer.

“It’s our aim to provide up to 80 per cent of the UK with a centre which is within a 90 minute drive time.

“Having one in the North-East is important to us. It provides a gateway for patients in Scotland.

“We have got two patients coming down from Scotland and we have got patients travelling up from York and North Yorkshire.”

Frank Cowburn, 75, from Whickham, Gateshead, underwent 20 sessions of radiotherapy at the centre after being diagnosed with prostate cancer earlier this year.

The retired operations manager said: “It was fantastic, it really was. Its equipment is state of the art and it’s in a brand new building. The staff were incredible. They made you feel so comfortable, they were really caring and there was a relaxing atmosphere about the place.

“If it wasn’t for the journey I am on, I would go as far as to say it was a pleasurable experience.

“It’s tremendous for the region and it is great that people can get proton beam therapy on their door step.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery, who attended the opening, added: “Both my parents died of cancer, everybody is touched by cancer whether it’s friends or relatives.

“When I was younger the medication wasn’t really up to scratch and now we see facilities like this and life expectancy is higher than what is was.

“Proton Beam Therapy is the leading cutting edge technology, I just wish it was available in every single hospital in the country.

“It means that people from the region have got this facility on their door step when they need it in the most desperate of times.”

Rutherford Health Plc operates a network of Rutherford Cancer Centres which offers the latest cancer therapies including proton beam therapy.

Its centre in Wales introduced proton beam therapy to the UK and treated a cancer patient with the pioneering treatment for the first time last year.