How magic beads saved a rock star's life


Drummer Kenney Jones of The Who on the new op that destroyed his prostate cancer...



  • Last September Kenney Jones, 65, was diagnosed with prostate cancer

  • Treated at Royal Surrey - the only centre offering cutting edge treatment

  • Kenney had a newer form of radiotherapy, known as 4D Brachytherapy™

  • Reduces incontinence and impotence chance compared with other treatments



Kenney Jones has led a gilded life. At 16, he was already performing as a drummer and he went on to play in three of Britain's iconic bands: The Small Faces, The Faces and The Who.


The father-of-six lives with his second wife, Jayne, a former model, in a Surrey manor house and presides over his own polo club, where Prince Charles is a visitor.


Then, last September, he was dealt two huge blows. As he puts it: 'My lovely mum, who was 89, was dying in hospital, and I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.'


Thankfully, his cancer was caught early. 'Even so, it's been a huge shock,' says 65-year-old Kenney, 'and I had some dark moments.'


He also had some medical luck. For in his anxiety about his mother, he'd forgotten to renew his private health insurance and ended up being treated at his local NHS hospital, the Royal Surrey in Guildford - which is the only centre in the country offering a cutting edge treatment for prostate cancer. 'Someone was looking after me,' he says, with an upward gaze.


As the cancer had not spread beyond the prostate, Kenney was suitable for brachytherapy, a form of internal radiotherapy.


Unlike standard radiotherapy, which is fired from outside the body and carries a risk of causing damage to the nerves and/or surrounding tissue - potentially leading to incontinence and impotence - brachytherapy involves implanting tiny radioactive seeds inside the prostate, where they target the rapidly dividing cancer cells close up.


But Kenney had a newer form, known as 4D Brachytherapy™, which has been developed by a team at the Royal Surrey led by Professor Stephen Langley, a consultant urological surgeon.


This relies on two types of radioactive seeds, loose and 'stranded', which are like beads on a thread. (Standard brachytherapy uses one or the other type.)


Ultrasound scans taken beforehand are used to precisely map the size and shape of the prostate, so the surgeon knows how long the strands of seeds should be; these are then pre-loaded on needles.


While the loose seeds are precisely placed inside the prostate, the stranded seeds are placed around the inside edge, emitting radiation just outside the gland to tackle any microscopic cancer cells that might have escaped. The idea is to treat the whole prostate, not just the areas of malignancy flagged up by a biopsy. The number of loose seeds is decided during the procedure itself.


The 4D element of the treatment is the use of a special computer during surgery. In real time, this adds up the radiotherapy dose as each loose seed is implanted, so each patient gets the precise amount they need.


The difference in terms of side-effects is significant, says Professor Langley. He also performs robotic removal of the prostate - said to be a more accurate form of prostate surgery - and says that one in 20 of these patients suffers incontinence afterwards. And more than half have difficulty getting an erection again, because the very small nerves connecting with the penis may be severed during surgery.


Standard brachytherapy, available in most UK cancer centres, reduces the chance of incontinence and impotence compared with both prostate removal and traditional radiotherapy.


Professor Langley says that with the 4D version, there is 'less than a 1 percent chance of incontinence, and more than 83 percent of our brachytherapy patients retain an erection'.


'Also, we can find no evidence of cancer in more than 90 percent of the 700 patients we have treated with 4D Brachytherapy™ over eight years,' says Professor Langley. 'We are world leaders  in this.


'Dr Peter Grimm, a co-founder of brachytherapy in Seattle in 1985, has been over and wants to take it back to the U.S. 'We are training clinicians, and three UK centres should be offering it over the next three years.


'Kenney Jones thinks that if men knew having their prostate checked needn't be the end of their sex life, or harm bladder control, more would be tested.He says that he'd had annoying bladder problems for more than 15 years. 'I'd get up three or four times in the night. I'd feel an urgency but then couldn't pass much water. But I was in denial and never saw a doctor because  I feared it might be cancer.' Professor Langley says the common perception that urinary symptoms are the key sign is erroneous, and less than 1 percent of the prostate cancer patients he sees have urinary symptoms. In fact, such symptoms are more common in advanced cases where cancer has spread outside the prostate.


Instead of waiting for symptoms, he believes men over 50 should have regular tests of their levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a protein produced by the prostate.


It was a PSA test that first alerted Kenney's GP to his problems. He was offered the test in a routine check-up last September.


'I was scared and wanted to say no, but I agreed to it. What a fool I was for not being more informed.'


A week later, it came back as 6.7 and a second test a week on showed it had risen to 6.8. In a man of Kenney's age, the PSA level is usually no higher than 4. Kenney underwent a biopsy and MRI scan.


As he was being tested, he admits he became upset. 'I thought I might never get an erection again,' he says. 'These were worries I couldn't share, not even with my wife. What if sex was never the same again? We love each other, but enjoying a healthy sex life is important.'


A couple of weeks after the biopsy, Kenney was told that he had cancer but that it  hadn't spread outside  the prostate.


'Of course I was still concerned, but it was very different to when I was told my enlarged thyroid gland might be cancerous 30 years ago. Back then, I couldn't hear a  word until the  shock subsided.


'It turned out to be benign. Now that I'm older, thoughts like, "I've had a pretty good life" went through my head.'


When Kenney told his children, aged from 16 to 42, 'they were a bit shell-shocked. Because I'm dyslexic, I'd had to read the hospital information pack three or four times so I could explain the treatment to them.' He underwent the brachytherapy in January under general anaesthetic, and was discharged the next day with tamsulosin. This drug relaxes the muscles around the bladder and prostate to assist urination. (Night-time problems with urination can surface four to six weeks after surgery once the radiation begins working.)


During his recovery, Kenney suffered insomnia. 'The nights were long and my bladder was very full. It was uncomfortable - as if I had a cork stuffed up it. It's not very rock 'n' roll, but camomile tea helped. I got about two hours' sleep and people said I looked ill.


'Professor Langley advised avoiding sex until two to four weeks after the surgery as it can be uncomfortable. But then he's probably never treated a rock star before. The minute I got an erection, I was delighted. My wife has no complaints.'


In April, he was thrilled when his PSA test came back at 2.5.


Professor Langley says that after three months the radiation has all but fizzled out, but the cancerous cells take longer to die off.


'PSA levels fall over two to three years, and by five years our average PSA is 0.1,' he says.


He acknowledges this treatment is no better at curing patients than prostate removal, but argues that it leaves patients with a better quality of life.


Professor Roger Kirby, a trustee of Prostate Cancer UK, offers a dissenting voice: 'The big advantage of getting rid of the prostate is that the cancer cannot return.'


Meanwhile, Kenney has been working to raise funds for Prostate Cancer UK with a benefit night at Hurtwood Park Polo Club, reuniting him with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend for the first time since he left The Who in 1988.


'I want to increase awareness - a man dies of prostate cancer every hour in the UK,' he says. 'My wife and I have had everything - and we don't need that any more. We're downsizing. Now is the time for me to enjoy my wife and family in a more relaxed way. I intend to live to a ripe old age.