I’d always been healthy until I got bowel cancer

Retired civil servant Peter had always been generally healthy until he was diagnosed with bowel cancer at the age of 81. He was treated using Papillon X-ray Brachtherapy and has now been declared free of cancer. Here is his story.

I’d never really had any health problems – not until November 2015 when I went on a cruise and discovered blood in my stool.

The bleeding disappeared so I didn’t worry. But in January 2016, it came back. I did the stool test and was referred by my GP to a cancer specialist at North Tees Hospital in Stockton.

To my dismay, I was diagnosed with T3b NO MO rectal cancer. The consultant recommended surgery which, because my anus would be closed permanently, would have meant having a stoma for the rest of my life.

A lot of people say that living with a stoma is no problem but it wasn’t for me.

In addition, I was assessed as having a high risk of mortality associated with surgery because of my age.

I did a lot of research on the internet to see if there was an alternative to surgery and discovered a treatment called Papillon X-ray Brachytherapy which had finally been approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) a couple of years before.

Papillon X-ray Brachytherapy

The surgeons didn’t seem keen on it but it scored high in success rates. If the brachytherapy did not eradicate the tumour, one could have surgery to remove the now much smaller tumour.

I discussed my case with staff at the Papillon unit at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre who said that the tumour was too big for brachytherapy but that chemotherapry and radiotherapy should reduce it to a treatable size.

The upshot was that I had two weeks of chemotherapy and seven weeks of radiotherapy in August and September 2016 at St James Hospital, Leeds which reduced the tumour by more than half.

In October 2016 I went to the Papillon suite at the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in the Wirral and was given a course of four shots of Papillon brachytherapy – one shot every two weeks.

The treatment was a bit embarrassing – having a rod inserted into your rectum. But it was relatively painless and each shot only lasted a few minutes. There were absolutely no after-effects after each session either.

After various checks in the next few months, I was given the all-clear of cancer (‘complete clinical response’) in May 2017. I was chuffed to bits. For the next couple of years, I’ll be receiving regular endoscopies, MRI and CT scans to check that the cancer hasn’t returned.

In my opinion, the Papillon technique is the best treatment for suitable cancers – it’s cheaper than surgery, less invasive, lower risk and, for me at least, it worked.

If it doesn’t work in the long term, surgery is always there as a last resort. In my case, that hasn’t been necessary. I’m glad I stuck to my guns.

For more information on Papillon, visit the website.