What is oncology?

Oncology is the branch of medicine that focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. There are many different types of cancer with unique characteristics, but they all involve the same underlying process. Cancer begins when healthy cells become damaged or ‘mutated’ and begin to multiply uncontrollably, often leading to the formation of a tumour. It can occur in various parts of the body, and some types will grow and spread more rapidly than others Oncologists are doctors who are experts that specialise in detecting cancer and treating it. They work alongside a range of other healthcare professionals to offer comprehensive care plans tailored to each individual’s needs.

Oncology at the Royal Free Hospital Private Patients Unit

Here at the Royal Free Hospital Private Patients Unit (PPU) we offer a wide array of oncology services, provided by our multidisciplinary team of leading specialists. The PPU combines the convenience, comfort and personalised attention of a private hospital with the very best state-of-the-art services, technology and the professional experience expected from a top London teaching hospital.

We are unique in that all of the profit that is made each year is reinvested back into the NHS services at the Royal Free Hospital trust, and this contributes to the high-quality care that our hospitals provide.

Treatments we offer

Each type of cancer requires a specific treatment plan, which takes into account individual circumstances and preferences. Our leading oncologists are on hand to deliver a wide range of cancer therapies including:

  • Immunotherapy – this works by enhancing a person’s own immune system’s ability to fight cancer
  • Targeted treatments – these involve the use of specific drugs that can block genes or proteins that are involved in cancer growth
  • Radiotherapy – this involves firing powerful radiation at tumours to kill or damage the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy – this involves the use of anti-cancer drugs to kill cancer cells. There are many different types of chemotherapy, but they all aim to stop cancer cells reproducing, which prevents them from growing and spreading in the body.

A combination of treatments is often used for the greatest effect, and surgery may also be offered. We are proud to offer a wide range of cutting-edge treatments for the following cancer types:

Carcinoma of unknown primary

Cancers begin in one place but may spread to other parts of your body in a process known as metastasis. The original location is known as the ‘primary’ cancer, and treatment is usually based around this. Carcinomas are a form of cancer that involve a particular cell type called epithelial cells, and they often metastasise to other locations. Sometimes it can be difficult to know where a carcinoma began, as it may only be detected after it has spread. This is known as Carcinoma of Unknown Primary (CUP).

At the PPU, we have developed an advanced pathway for diagnosing and investigating patients who have had a scan that demonstrates metastatic disease – without an obvious primary cancer being detected. The speed of diagnosis is crucial to ensure patients are referred to the correct team to start treatment as soon as possible. Imaging scans such as CT or MRI that suggest cancer are rapidly seen to by our oncology team who will arrange an assessment as soon as possible. They will usually take a small sample of cells (biopsy) to determine the diagnosis of a tumour and type of cells it is composed of. If the tumour cells are of a different type to the surrounding healthy cells, (indicating that they have spread from elsewhere), CUP can be diagnosed and the speedy search for the primary carcinoma will begin.

The region of in the body in which the tumour is found can help to guide further investigations. Cancers often spread in a particular pattern, and this can be used to trace them back to the primary location. We are committed to investing in innovative technologies, and advanced imaging scans such as PET (positron emission tomography) can map out the location of cancer cells. Blood tests for tumour markers (chemicals that are linked to specific types of tumours) can also help to identify the primary carcinoma. Sometimes, however, the primary carcinoma cannot be found, so treatment will begin based on what type of cancer is most likely.

The Royal Free Hospital PPU as a regional specialist centre

In addition to the range of other services we provide, we are proud to have a reputation as a leading specialist centre in the research and treatment of the following cancer types:

  • Hepatocellular (liver) cancer (HCC) – the Royal Free Hospital is one of two centres in London to offer a liver transplant for patients with HCC. This service is provided at our leading Hepato-Pancreato-Biliary (HPB) surgical unit. We also offer a range of treatments including radiofrequency ablation and transarterial-embolisation (carried out by our interventional radiologists), and lead the way in terms of systemic drug treatments offered for this cancer
  • Cholangiocarcinoma – this is a cancer within the bile ducts, which are small tubes that run from the liver and gall bladder (a small organ that sits under the liver) to the small intestine. Our world-famous HPB unit provides comprehensive services for these cancers, including surgical and oncological treatments
  • Pancreatic cancer – our HPB surgical and oncology units work closely together as part of a multidisciplinary team approach to ensure optimised care for this cancer
  • Neuro-endocrine tumours (NET) – these are rare cancers of cells that release hormones into your bloodstream. The PPU has an internationally-recognised Neuroendocrine Tumour Unit for the treatment of patients with these cancers
  • Melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers
  • Renal (kidney) cancer – for which we have a leading, dedicated surgical centre based in North London

We recognise that being diagnosed with cancer is a very difficult process to go through, and our highly-skilled oncology team are dedicated to offering support from diagnosis to treatment.

Our expert team of specialists

All our consultants also work for our NHS Foundation Trust, and many have been trained here over the many years of their career. The PPU oncology team consists of a range of highly-specialised consultant medical oncologists and includes:

For expert care in cancer management, or for a second opinion, we are proud to offer access to innovative technologies and an experienced multidisciplinary team who are all dedicated to delivering the highest standards of care.

Cancer.net. (2019). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/immunotherapy-and-vaccines/understanding-immunotherapy
2 Cancer.net. (2019). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from https://www.cancer.net/navigating-cancer-care/how-cancer-treated/personalized-and-targeted-therapies/understanding-targeted-therapy
3 National Cancer Institute. (2019). Retrieved August 18, 2019, from https://www.cancer.gov/types/unknown-primary/patient/unknown-primary-treatment-pdq