Patients currently sent abroad for a cancer treatment could soon get it at home, the government has announced.
Andrew Lansley plans to invest up to £150 million in a new proton beam therapy service for the NHS, which he says could benefit up to 1,500 patients a year.
Proton beam therapy is a recent technology that uses charged particles instead of X-rays to deliver a dose of radiotherapy for patients suffering from cancer.
Proton beams can accurately target cancer tumours with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
This helps increase success rates, reduces side-effects and helps patients recover quicker.
In April 2008, a programme was established to send some NHS patients from England overseas for the therapy, including funding their travel and accommodation.
Patients and their families are sometimes away from home for eight to 10 weeks at a time.
Patients are currently treated in three centres - in Switzerland and Florida and Oklahoma in the US.
Around 80 patients from England have been treated abroad since 2008. The government has increased funding and expected the number to rise to 400 a year by 2013/14.
In the past, a patient’s consultant has also had to get approval from a panel set up by NHS Specialised Services, with the panel deciding whether the patient is suitable for the therapy.
Proton therapy is also available privately in the UK.