Actualité - Radiotherapy

Philip Poortmans: “Continuing Marie Curie’s battle”

On November 7, 2017, marking the 150th anniversary of Marie Curie’s birth, Prof. Philip Poortmans, head of the Department of Oncological Radiotherapy at Institut Curie, was awarded the first PSL-Institut Curie professorship.

What will the creation of this first joint PSL-Institut Curie Professorship contribute?

Philip Poortmans: This chair demonstrates above all Institut Curie’s major investment in training. It is a vital mission since today’s students will be tomorrow’s researchers, physicians, technicians and caregivers.

In terms of oncological radiotherapy, it is more important than ever to train all the specialists concerned (dosimetrists, medical physicists, oncologists-radiotherapists, handlers, etc.) in the latest developments in this field. In addition, oncological radiotherapy is increasingly combined with other treatments, which makes multi-disciplinary work with other specialists even more important. All oncologists and researchers must also be made aware of this.


What does Marie Curie mean to you as an oncologist-radiotherapist?

PP: Marie Curie is the mother of oncology-radiotherapy. From the very beginning she saw a variety of possible applications of radioactivity, in physics, chemistry and in medicine of course, although she was not a physician. External radiotherapy and brachytherapy are today essential factors in the treatment of many patients, in addition to surgery and medication. It is used in the treatment of almost 60% of cancer patients. We have to continue Marie Curie’s battle to ensure that oncological radiotherapy continues to progress even further.


What role did Marie Curie and Institut Curie play in the progress of oncological radiotherapy?

PP: Since the start of the 20th century, when Marie Curie signed the first certificates for use of radium for her medical applications, things have moved on considerably. Radium was used initially, but the radio-elements discovered later, then electron beams, followed by particles, are responsible for the greatest progress in terms of oncology-radiotherapy. Many of them, such as brachytherapy or the radium bomb, were discovered at the Institut du Radium (today Institut Curie), between 1911 and 1913, under the impetus of Marie Curie and the physician Claudius Regaud. It was also at Institut du Radium that François Baclesse, at the end of the 1930s, put a stop to the almost systematic mutilation of women with breast cancer, by laying the foundation for so-called “conservative” treatment, along with radiotherapy alone or combined with minimal surgery, and this has since become a benchmark. Since these pioneering days, progress has marched on: in 2004, the development of respiration-gated radiotherapy (gating), in 2006 the first child aged less than 4 treated using proton therapy thanks to the development of anesthesia, in 2007, the first patient treated using tomotherapy in France.


What are the latest innovations and perspectives in the field of radiotherapy?

PP: Oncological radiotherapy will be combined increasingly with other treatments, such as immunotherapy. Institut Curie is perfectly positioned to implement these new strategies. The Orsay site devotes itself to developing new particularly innovative combinations between radiotherapy, immunotherapy and radiosensitizers. Much remains to be done, but the Marie Curie oncological radiotherapy chair will raise awareness among future physicians on this issue, and encourage them to collaborate with specialists from different disciplines.


Find out more about Philip Poortmans

1986: Medical Degree
1986 to 1990: Radio-oncology training
2005: PhD in Quality assurance in breast cancer clinical trials
2005: member of the Board of Directors of the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO)
2014 to 2016: chairman of ESTRO
2018 to 2020: Chairman of ECCO (European CanCer Organisation).

Over the past 25 years, Philip Poortmans has been involved in a number of aspects of clinical trials, such as quality assurance and optimization of the management of breast cancer, malignant lymphoma, urology and rare tumors. He has also taken part in the development of many guidelines for cancer treatment. At the same time he has always worked to facilitate and stimulate the development of basic, translational and clinical research.

Prof. Philip Poortmans joined Institut Curie in March 2017 to take over as head of the Department of Oncological Radiotherapy, which is one of the most comprehensive in Europe with a proton therapy center. Patients are welcomed from all over France and around the world. In all, the department carried out 5,000 radiotherapy treatments last year.

Marie Curie 150th anniversary