Horizon: Defeating Cancer, BBC Two, review

imageTerry Ramsey reviews the latest episode of BBC Two’s Horizon series, which explores ways of defeating cancer and the patients receiving the treatments.

As far as I am aware, there is no award for Best Cancer Hospital in the World but if there were, the Royal Marsden in London would be a contender. Horizon: Defeating Cancer (BBC Two) was a fascinating documentary that started off looking like it would simply be an account of the hospital’s treatment of three patients, Ray, Phil and Rosemary. But it was that and so much more, as it opened up the complex science behind the latest cancer treatments, as well as highlighting what they mean to people on the receiving end. “I am over the moon,” said Ray on hearing his treatment had worked. Phil’s wife was likewise delighted at her husband’s all-clear. “We have got a few more years to do caravanning then, haven’t we?” she said.

The programme featured three of the Marsden’s breakthrough treatments: a robot system providing advanced radiotherapy treatment; another robot enabling pinpoint accurate internal surgery; and molecular advances that mean cancers can be treated by pill. The account of how scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research investigated the B-Raf gene, discovered the way it mutated and designed a drug to combat that mutation, was an awe-inspiring medical detective story.

But even with millions of pound pumped into new treatments, some things remain the same. With the radiotherapy robot about to swing into action to save Ray’s life, it went haywire, outputting a series of error messages that threw the medics into panic. But the problem was soon solved. As the voice-over explained: “Sometimes even a machine this sophisticated needs switching off and switching on again…”

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