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When Tom Cumming, an electrical engineer from Strathaven, Lanarkshire was told that his pancreatic tumour was terminal, he began researching alternative therapies in a bid to live longer.
The grandfather-of-three spent his entire career aiming to not be electrocuted, and has now paid £13,000 to have a 3,000-volt current zipped through his entire body to kill his tumours.
The experimental treatment, called NanoKnife, uses electrical current to break down cancer cells, which in turn enables the body’s immune system in combination with chemotherapy to attack the weakened cancer.
Mr Cumming said: “I was apprehensive because I was an electrical engineer for 37 years. My job was to avoid electrical shocks so this was alien to me. My colleagues were offering to do it for free. There is an irony that one month I am trying to avoid it, and the next I am volunteering to have 3,000 volts put through me.”
Tom was put under general anaesthetic and paralysed. Medical experts then put 3,000 volts worth of electricity through his body for a time of 90 milliseconds at 50 milliamps. That breaks down the tumour wall and allows the body’s immune system and the chemotherapy to do its job.
To Tom’s utter amazement, the tumour was stopped in its tracks and he didn’t require any further treatment. Things changed in January when a scan revealed there had been a change in the tumour, so Tom found the cash for a second go at the ‘NanoKnife’ procedure – a pre-emptive strike against the cancer.
“I’m still here, so I’ve got to give it some credence that this thing is keeping me alive and it has kept me going.” He said.
NanoKnife can be used on a range of cancers, and whilst it is approved for use in the UK, it is not available on the NHS – hence the hefty price tag that Tom paid – and a recent clinical trial proving it’s utility in the fight against cancer failed to progress due to a lack of funding behind the project.
Professor Edward Leen, a radiology specialist who carried out both the NanoKnife procedures on Mr Cumming said: “I do believe that without the NanoKnife, he may not be alive today. The average survival on just chemotherapy is at best, around six to thirteen months. Published American data, as well as ours which is not yet published, has shown that in combination with chemotherapy, the NanoKnife doubles the survival of the pancreatic cancer patient and fits in with what has happened with Tom. It took Tom about 20 months before his disease progressed.”
An NHS Scotland insider has said that the currently-private NanoKnife treatment is being widely discussed amongst cancer experts and oncologists alike. “This is something that people are watching with extreme interest”, he said.