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Overview: Press & NewsDate created: 02.10.2023

A 27-year-old young woman from Romania is our 4000th patient at the WPE. She has been undergoing proton treatment at the West German Proton Therapy Centre since August. This makes her one of about 120 patients a year who travel from far away to Essen for treatment at the WPE.

It all started with problems in Raluca’s right eye at the beginning of the year. An MRI quickly provided the certainty that it was a tumour. The operation was quickly planned and carried out. The tissue examination then revealed the diagnosis: clivuschordoma – that is, a tumour at the base of the skull.

Radiotherapy for chordomas

This form of chordoma is basically non-malignant, but its growth in the skull causes problems because it presses on the brain or – as in Raluca’s case – on nerves: this caused double vision in her case. During surgeries, often not all of the tumour tissue can be removed without damaging the surrounding risk structures (in this case, the cranial nerves). In Raluca’s case, too, the chordoma could only be partially resected. Radiation therapy following the surgery is absolutely necessary. Prof. Beate Timmermann explains: “However, this tumour is not very sensitive to radiation. It needs a comparatively high radiation dose to destroy the tumour cells sustainably. Due to its location in the middle of tissue that has important functions, particle therapy has been the radiation therapy of choice for years for chordomas and chondrosarcomas of the skull base. In this way, the required, high radiation dose can be applied and at the same time the tissue around the tumour can be spared to the maximum.”

Search for a therapy centre abroad

Raluca’s Romanian neurosurgeons also advised her to undergo particle therapy, which includes proton therapy as well as heavy ions. Since there are no particle therapy facilities in Romania, it soon became obvious that she would have to look for a therapy place abroad. Fortunately, there is a special service in Romania for therapies abroad at the national health program, which supports patients in their search for a therapy place. In addition, she also started looking for a place herself and sent an enquiry to the WPE. She had heard about a young patient with the same diagnosis that was treated in Germany.

For the enquiry, she had to have her medical records translated into English. There was also support for this from the health insurance coordinator. After she had submitted the necessary documents to the case management of the WPE, everything went very quickly; the treatment can be offered in Essen and the health insurance company also quickly approved the therapy.

Daily therapy in Essen

In July, our young patient arrived in Essen for her two planning days, and in August, her therapy started. At the beginning she was a little nauseous, but this gradually improved. She also had no side effects such as headaches or dizziness, which can occur during radiotherapy. During the time without therapy, she explored Essen and the Ruhr area. Her brother accompanied her to Essen, so she had some local family. She was also able to work on the computer for a few hours a day. She had learned a little German at school, not much left in her opinion, but it was enough for a few words with the colleagues at the outpatient clinic. And she also appreciated the daily contact with the radiographers during treatment: “I always felt safe and very friendly. There was usually a friendly chat about my condition or my plans for the day. Very professional, but also very personal.”

Now it’s just a few more treatments until it’s time to go home again. She is really looking forward to seeing her family and friends.

Chordomas at WPE

After Ewing’s sarcomas, chordomas are the most treated bone tumours at the WPE, ahead of chondrosarcomas. By autumn 2023, over 160 patients with a chordoma had received their proton therapy at our clinic (4% of all WPE patients).

Patients from abroad

To enable patients from abroad to receive proton therapy at the WPE, our case management helps with the preparation of all necessary documents and also assists with travel and accommodation. Please feel free to contact us.