Proton Therapy: Transforming Cancer Treatment Options

By James Jarrett
Spring 2012 signaled not only the growth of new buds on our trees, but also new hope for cancer patients in New Jersey. On March 20, the first proton therapy center in New Jersey and the New York metro region opened in Somerset – the third such center in the U.S. operated by ProCure Treatment Centers, Inc., a privately held health care company.

What is Proton Therapy?
When people think of cancer treatments, many immediately jump to traditional radiation therapy; however, another treatment option is becoming more broadly available in the U.S.: proton therapy. The concept of protons as a form of cancer treatment has been around for more than 50 years, but the technology only recently became readily available to patients in clinical settings.
Proton therapy utilizes protons, large, positively charged particles that penetrate matter to a specific, pre-determined depth. In contrast, traditional radiation uses photons or X-rays, electromagnetic waves that have no mass or charge and shoot completely through tissue like a bullet. While both offer effective tumor control, the difference between proton therapy and standard X-ray radiation is that protons can be controlled with a high degree of accuracy and will deposit much of their radiation directly in the tumor. This minimizes the damage to the surrounding, healthy tissue, and allows patients to receive higher, more effective doses while reducing damage to healthy tissues that surround the tumor. Simply put, tissue that is not irradiated will not have radiation induced side effects.
In traditional radiation, X-rays release radiation as they travel through the body – damaging both the tumor and healthy tissue.
Proton therapy’s benefits make it an effective treatment for cancers that are in delicate locations, such as near the brain or vital organs, as well as with tumors that are situated deep within the body, which could lead to an increase in collateral damage from the excess radiation delivered by traditional X-ray radiation. Proton therapy is most commonly used for tumors of the prostate, brain, head and neck, central nervous system, lung and gastrointestinal system, as well as many pediatric cancers. Ongoing studies are exploring how proton therapy can most effectively treat other cancers as well.

Proton Therapy Centers
ProCure leverages technology and clinical experience to meet patient need. Proton therapy centers require complex, cutting-edge equipment, so constructing new centers is both expensive and time-consuming. ProCure uses its clinical, financial and technological expertise in proton therapy to efficiently construct proton therapy centers across the United States in collaboration with leading radiation oncologists and hospitals.
Currently, there are only 10 proton therapy centers nationwide, which can only accommodate a fraction of the patients who could benefit from the treatment. ProCure’s mission is to improve the lives of patients with cancer by increasing access to proton therapy.
This goal is gradually being achieved. The Somerset, N.J., site, the third ProCure center in the U.S., features the most advanced proton therapy technology currently available, and opened in record time – just 23 months after groundbreaking. Other ProCure centers are already in development in other parts of the country.
Most importantly, ProCure centers do more than treat the tumor; they also treat the patient. Each center is designed to provide patients and their families with a comfortable, personable environment that is conducive to healing. Since patients often travel from around the country for treatment and are in therapy for several weeks, ProCure offers them personalized, concierge-style service to help them take advantage of the local area and holds regular events where patients can get to know others undergoing treatment.

ProCure and New Jersey
When ProCure was seeking a location for its third center, the New York metro area came to the fore. With more than 35,000 patients in the area who could benefit from the treatment each year, the need for a proton center was evident.
As the company took a closer look at the region, New Jersey stood out as the place to build.
The state has a supportive economic environment for breakthrough biotechnology research and development, which has led to a statewide climate of innovation in health care. As a privately funded company that does not rely on state or federal funding or grants, ProCure found New Jersey’s economic landscape to be welcoming, and funding was readily secured.
In addition to economic environment, ProCure found an inviting medical community. While the majority of physicians have not had the opportunity to work with the technology or witness patient outcomes, many have been eager to work with ProCure and spread information to other doctors. Two health care organizations, Princeton Radiation Oncology and CentraState Healthcare System joined with ProCure in formal collaboration to develop the NJ facility.

The relatively sparse number of proton therapy centers nationwide often requires patients and their families to travel to facilities away from home to receive treatment. The opening of a proton therapy center in NJ will therefore provide both a welcome resource to local patients and an economic boost to the region.

What’s Next for Proton Therapy?
The physicians, hospitals and companies invested in the advancement of proton therapy are constantly working to improve current treatments and expand their scope.
Because a limited number of proton therapy procedures are performed each year, proton therapy centers across the country are working together to maximize patient data and broaden the spectrum of studies being performed. ProCure New Jersey is involved in this research, with plans for all patients to be enrolled in various data collection and clinical trials. In addition, by finding efficiencies with each proton therapy center it develops, ProCure continues to decrease the cost of bringing a center to market. We believe the future is bright for proton therapy and that ProCure and the state of New Jersey are positioned to continue to spur innovation and growth.
Stats at a Glance
• Cancer is the second leading cause of death in New Jersey.
• ProCure’s New Jersey center is the first proton therapy center in the NY/NJ area and the 10th such center in the United States.
• Proton therapy is, essentially, the same as X-ray radiation but with far fewer side effects and much less damage to healthy tissue.
• Approximately 60 percent of cancer patients in the United States currently receive traditional X-ray radiation.
• Proton therapy is used to treat brain, head and neck, base-of-skull, prostate and pediatric tumors, as well as tumors near the spine, melanoma of the eye and lung cancer.
• In the case of prostate cancer, treatment with proton therapy can help avoid common side effects, such as bowel and bladder problems and sexual symptoms, as well as recurring or secondary tumors.
• Unlike X-ray radiation, proton therapy can be used at the same time as chemotherapy because it does not affect bone marrow.
• Approximately 30,000 patients per year could benefit from treatment in New Jersey and the New York metro area.
• The ProCure Proton Therapy Center has the capacity to treat approximately 1,500 patients a year.

James Jarrett, is President of the ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, New Jersey.

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Categories: LifeSciTrends

Author:NJ Tech Council

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