The Cobalt Appeal Fund - nearly 50 Years of Fighting Cancer
The Charity was founded nearly 50 years ago when doctors at
Cheltenham General Hospital wanted the very best available
radiotherapy treatment facilities for their cancer patients. The
National Health Service budget could not rise to it so Dr Fred
Hanna, who was responsible for Radiotherapy in the county,
decided to enlist the help of the local community.
In March 1964, the Cobalt Unit Appeal Fund was launched by a
committee of prominent local figures led by the late Alex Mills,
OBE and Consultant Radiotherapist Dr Fred Hanna, OBE, Howard Crooks
and other Cancer Consultants. Its aim was to raise funds to buy a
Cobalt Radiotherapy Unit to treat patients with cancer. The nearest
cobalt unit was then 50 miles away, in Bristol.
The response by the public, local societies and organisations,
local professional people and civic leaders was fantastic. Within 1
year of the initial appeal an incredible £88,000 had been raised -
together they had done it!
The Dream Becomes Reality!
In September 1966, a completely
equipped radiotherapy centre, with the cobalt unit, was officially
opened by the Duke of Beaufort and formally handed over to the
National Health Service by the Appeal Committee.
As the vital work of the new centre gained impetus, the appeal
continued and so did the popular fundraising support. In 1969, an
extension for radioisotope and electronic work was added. This
reflected the increasing importance of the centre in terms of
clinical research directed to the early detection of certain
cancers offering an improved prospect of effective treatment.
It was clear by 1972 that another newly developed, powerful device
could assist with earlier diagnosis and avoid exploratory surgery.
An appeal was made to fundraise for the purchase of a Radioisotope
Initially, the centre had served patients in North
Gloucestershire and South Worcestershire. By 1974, the area had
been extended to cover Herefordshire and the Welsh Border with
250,000 more potential patients than the original unit was designed
to serve. Extensions were now added and in 1975 a further £55,000
was raised for a two-storey building. This included an operating
theatre and new radioisotope accommodation. Early detection of
cancer was the urgent requirement emphasised by these additions. As
voluntary support grew, continuing fundraising made it possible to
build a new clinic and out-patient department. This was handed over
to the Health Service in 1977.
In 1978, an appeal raised £212,000 for a Three-Dimensional
Simulator for use in "mapping out" cancers and harnessing a 4
million volt linear accelerator as the source of high radiation
doses which are administered with millimetre precision. HRH The
Princess Anne helped present this facility to the Health Service in
1982, the fund also provided £275,000 for an X-Ray Computerised
Tomography Scanner used in the diagnosis of cancer and other
diseases. The Appeal also met the running costs of this equipment
for a further 10 years.
Focus on Breast Cancer Treatment
In 1984, attention focused on
Breast Cancer - a disease which attacks thousands of women where
all too often the remedy was surgery.
The first move was to equip the Centre with the means of treating
breast cancer by radiotherapy instead of surgery, in every case
appropriate. This treatment when associated with the means of very
early diagnosis would eventually remove much of the fear and
distress of breast cancer and save many lives.
The equipment consisted of a 20 million volt linear accelerator,
specially housed with its ancillary facilities and the means of
running it. The cost of this was £1 million - the NHS offered to
pay 50%. Accordingly, an appeal for £500,000 was launched in 1984
with one third of the sum required being raised in the first three
months! Treatment was by way of high energy X-Rays or by electron
beamed therapy. The former use is appropriate to cancers in the
lung, ovary, uterus, bladder and prostate and the latter
facilitates localised treatment of the breast and brain without
damaging underlying organs and tissues. The linear accelerator was
inaugurated by HRH The Princess Margaret on the 20th June 1986. It
has significantly reduced the need for mastectomy in women
suffering from breast cancer.
In 1990/91 a selectron machine £116,000, a gamma
camera £22,500 and a final installment of £29,000 for a mobile
mammography unit, were all paid for, in addition to £40,000 to
cover the maintenance of the Toshiba scanner, an ultrasound machine
for the Mammography Unit at Hereford at a cost of £10,000 as well
as the payment of the year's instalment of a ten year agreement to
fund the running costs of that Unit. The period of support for the
Unit at Hereford has since been extended and is now in its
Cancer Prevention Services
Complementing the high technological services of the Centre
with less dramatic, but no less vital work, the Appeal Fund
established a range of community support activities committed to
cancer prevention and counselling.
These are based at Linton House, which was acquired from Cheltenham
College in the early 1980s. They include clinics for smokers (one
third of all cancers would not occur if we did not smoke),
workshops for the encouragement of sensible eating and drinking
(faulty diet can lead to bowel cancer), and clinics for the early
detection of breast cancer through breast self examination and
breast awareness. Advice is also given to men over 50 on prostate
disease (by far the majority of this is benign) and to the younger
male generation on the symptoms of testicular cancer.
Our highly successful Cancer Prevention services provide excellent
leaflets, factsheets and information on all the major cancers, as
well as awareness and prevention advice. These can all be found in
our cancer prevention section, accessed through the top navigation
Smoking amongst children had become a serious problem and in March
1987, a smokebusters campaign was launched aimed at children in the
9 - 14 age group. The Counties' primary schools were targeted and
the Smokebusters Club now has a thriving membership of 1500.
MRI - Our Biggest Challenge Yet
The policy of the Charity
has always been to try to remain at the cutting edge of technology
from which local residents would benefit. By the end of the 1980s
the Board had learned of the advantages of Magnetic Resonance
Imaging (MRI), a modality not readily available in the area. In May
1990 an appeal for £1.5 million was launched to obtain one of these
unique new whole body scanners which uses magnetism to give doctors
crystal clear pictures of the human body.
The highly advanced technique of MRI involves no X-rays nor
surgery. It has no known side effects and allows doctors to look at
"slices" of the body from any angle, in minute detail, on a TV
screen. The doctor is then able to highlight specific tissue for
the early signs of disease at a stage when quick and accurate
treatment can save lives. It moreover enables diseases other than
cancer to be tackled and is of considerable benefit when doctors
are dealing with problems such as sports injuries and conditions
following motor accidents. Its greatest impact was found to be on
diseases of the central nervous system, the neck, head and
whole cost of its acquisition was borne by the Appeal Fund. By the
end of 1992 sufficient funds were available to enable the scanner
to be acquired and an associated clinic building was also erected.
By then it had become possible to install a scanner in a mobile
form and the advantages of being able to take it to differing
hospital sites were quickly seen. Previous policy had been to find
the need for a piece of equipment, put out an appeal for the money,
buy the item and then hand it over to the NHS. After discussions
with the local doctors and considerable deliberation it was decided
that the Appeal Fund would run the service and the scanners would
be taken to various different hospitals thereby benefiting the
communities which those hospitals served.
The benefits rapidly became appreciated and the demand for the
service increased to such an extent that a second scanner was
acquired in the autumn of 1995. Hospitals within the beneficial
area received a subsidised service and because of the Medical
Charity's close involvement with the fight against cancer, all
treatment oncology patients residing in the beneficial area are
scanned entirely at the Appeal Fund's expense when referred by
their oncologist. To enable these subsidies to be effected, private
patients are scanned at commercial rates both at Linton House and
at the private hospitals. The Appeal Fund now has five high field
state of the art scanners funded from this income, they are updated
at regular intervals and we are responsible for providing a service
at twelve different sites.
Our service has also achieved ISO 9001:2000 quality assurance
status not for equipment but for the quality of the mobile MRI
scanning service which we provide. Our external
assessor report was exceptional, noting our service to be
exemplary. For more information on MRI scanning please look at
Advanced Cancer Treatment
The MRI service has been the diagnostic tool to help the
medical profession and it seemed right that the Appeal Fund should
attempt to complement this with treatment equipment. It was all the
more appropriate bearing in mind that there was a sizeable
rebuilding programme going on at Cheltenham General Hospital. The
Cobalt Unit agreed to provide an advanced cancer treatment machine
for the Oncology Centre at the Hospital at a cost of £765,000.00.
An order was placed for this and the installation took place before
the turn of the century.
Supporting the Gloucestershire Breast Screening
Cobalt Unit Appeal Fund has always been closely
involved with the fight against breast cancer. Linton House is used
by the Gloucestershire Breast Screening Service as their
headquarters and local women between the age of 50 and 64 are
screened here every three years. Additionally the Charity provided
for the Breast Screening Service a mobile mammography van which
toured the outlying areas of the County offering the same screening
service. At the end of 1998 the Trustees agreed to a package of
improvements to support the service based at Linton House Clinic
and this included the provision of a second mammography room, and
improvements in biopsy and film viewing equipment. The total cost
was expected to be in the region of £200,000 and this would include
the provision of a second mobile mammography unit. Meanwhile the
Charity continued to support the clinical mammography service at
Hereford Hospital to the sum of £18,000 per year.
Cobalt funds dedicated nurse for blood cancer
Specialist nurse Rosie Howard has been appointed to care for
Gloucestershire patients with cancers of the blood and lymphatic
system. The Cobalt Appeal Fund has pledged £100,000 to fund
the salary and costs of the new post, initially for two
Rosie, who is based at Cheltenham General Hospital, is dedicated to
meeting the needs of people suffering from leukaemia, lymphoma and
The Fund decided to support the post after discussions about
where its money is most needed with the Three Counties Cancer
Network and the Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation
Rosie co-ordinates the care that patients with blood and lymphatic
cancers receive in hospital, the community and at home.
As well as providing expert clinical care, such as blood
transfusions and investigations, she gives guidance, information
and support to people dealing with the difficulties of cancer
diagnosis and treatment.
Cobalt Steps In To Help Save Prostate Cancer Unit
State-of-the-art treatment for men with prostate cancer is
continuing in Gloucestershire after the Cobalt Appeal Fund stepped
in with a £50,000 grant.
The treatment, known as brachytherapy, is carried out at a
specialist unit at Cheltenham General Hospital, funded by the
Gloucestershire Prostate Cancer Trust (GPCT).
The Trust, a charity launched in 2001, feared that the unit
may have to close after a bid for NHS funding was turned down in
Now Cobalt has assured the unit's short-term future by donating
£50,000 on top of the £25,000 it granted to the charity in
Brachytherapy involves implanting radioactive seeds directly into
the prostate gland, allowing the cancer to be controlled by a
closely focused dose of radiation. Potential unwelcome side effects
associated with intrusive surgery and traditional radiotherapy are
Until the GPCT set up in the Cheltenham unit in 2003, men had to
travel to Leeds or Guildford for this treatment.
Cobalt Funds New Detection Tool For Breast Cancer
A new technique that may spare women with early breast cancer
from extensive surgery has been introduced in Gloucestershire and
Worcestershire, after the Cobalt Appeal Fund spent £80,000 on the
equipment needed to carry out special biopsies.
The money paid for four handheld gamma probes which allows
doctors to perform a sentinel node biopsy which checks a small
number of lymph nodes to assess whether the disease has spread
beyond the breast to under the armpit.
In the past, women have had to have all the lymph nodes in the area
removed, whether they were cancerous or not.
Consultant Surgeon at Cheltenham General Hospital Mr Charlie Chan
said "Recent trials have shown that sentinel node biopsy is a very
reliable way of identifying the nodes most likely to be affected by
cancer. The benefits of this technique for those women not
requiring further surgery are immense.
Patients Quiz Top Doctors on Breast Cancer Drug
Breast cancer patients were given the chance to quiz top
doctors about the new drug Herceptin at special public meetings in
Cheltenham and Cirencester in late 2005.
The meetings, hosted by the Cobalt Appeal Fund, focused on the
use and availability of the drug, which is currently mainly given
to treat advanced breast cancer.
The panel of Gloucestershire specialists attending the meetings was
made up of Breast Cancer Consultant Surgeon Mr James Bristol,
Senior Consultant Oncologists Dr Roger Owen and Dr Sean Elyan,
Consultant Oncologist Dr Peter Jenkins and Consultant Pathologist
Dr Victoria Petersen.
Interest in Herceptin has increased dramatically following the
recent announcement by Secretary of State for Health Patricia
Hewitt that all women with early stage breast cancer are to be
tested to see if they would benefit from the drug.