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Orlando Health's Center for Proton Therapy Reaches a Milestone


Center has seen "strong growth" and "worldwide recognition"

What began in 2006 as a continuing mission to develop advanced care for cancer patients, and in 2013 saw the delivery of the massive Mevion Medical Systems S250 superconducting synchrocyclotron to the site that became the Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center, has now become a milestone moment seeing the 500th patient treated.

For that patient, Juan Campos, proton therapy was of critical importance in safely treating a brain tumor which had received two prior conventional radiation treatments over the past 12 years. The use of proton therapy will allow for effective treatment of the tumor while decreasing the long-term risk of brain injury and preserving neurological function.

The 15,000-square-foot Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy consists of three floors - two above ground and one underground - in order to accommodate the system that operates similar to a linear accelerator.

The idea for the original $25 million, 15,000-square-foot Center began at a time when many of the large proton facilities had an exorbitant price tag: hundreds of millions of dollars. By waiting a few years, the size of the machine decreased, along with the cost.

Proton therapy is considered the most precise and advanced form of radiation treatment, primarily radiating the tumor site while leaving intact surrounding healthy tissue and organs. Instead of radiotherapy that is delivered via photons, proton radiotherapy uses positively charged protons consisting of a hydrogen atom stripped of its electron. Protons are harnessed for treatment using the three-story cyclotron. Compared to conventional forms of radiation, side effects are minimal from proton therapy, particularly in pediatric patients.

Tumors best treated by proton therapy include those that are localized and haven't spread to distant areas of the body. If the tumor is near a critical organ, such as the spinal cord or optic nerves, proton therapy may allow for preservation of the function of the organ while delivering effective doses of radiation to the tumor.

Proton therapy may be used in combination with traditional radiation, chemotherapy and/or as a follow-up to surgery.

The timetable for proton therapy varies with each patient, from a day to seven weeks, depending on the tumor site. The length of treatment time decreases over time, as heavier doses begin to increase. Many insurers and Medicare cover proton therapy, which costs more than conventional radiation but usually less than surgery.

Even though proton therapy was initially proposed in 1954, its use has been very limited worldwide. Loma Linda University Medical Center in California was the site of the first hospital-based treatment center when it opened a proton therapy center in 1990.

The Center for Proton Therapy is one of only 29 regional centers across the United States and has treated a diverse group of patients with cancers of the brain, spine, prostate, breast, thorax and lungs, head and neck, as well as a large group of pediatric patients. Treatments have involved a wide range of clinical protocols and enrolled patients in a multi-institutional proton treatment registry.

The Center for Proton Therapy has enjoyed strong growth since opening its doors, drawing a wide range of adult and pediatric patients throughout Florida, and from as far as the Middle East, Canada and Asia.

"We offer an innovative multi-disciplinary approach to cancer treatment that is an important factor in the growth of our proton therapy program," says Naren Ramakrishna, MD, PhD, director of proton therapy for Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center. "Patients are coming to us from near and far because of that philosophy and the unique benefits proton therapy has to offer.".

Dr. Naren Ramakrishna Talks Proton Therapy Now

In January 2018, the Center for Proton Therapy became the first facility to combine a compact proton therapy system with advanced mobile CT (computed tomography) imaging, which allows physicians to efficiently monitor a patient's tumor response under treatment. The development furthered Orlando Health's history as a pioneer in the use of state-of-the-art image-guided radiation therapy.

As the program moves forward, there is great excitement regarding future plans for growth. Clinical expansion is on the horizon and new technologies, like next-generation intensity modulated proton therapy (IMPT), will further enhance benefits and open treatment options for an even broader range of cancer patients from Florida and beyond.

According to the National Association for Proton Therapy, patients experience a number of clinical benefits:

  • Proton Therapy delivers less radiation to healthy tissues and organs resulting in fewer, less severe short and long-term side effects than standard radiation therapy.
  • Due to fewer complications and side effects, physicians can potentially deliver higher curative doses of radiation to cancerous tumors.
  • Multiple studies have demonstrated that patients treated with proton therapy have improved survival rates when compared to other radiation treatment modalities.
  • Chances of developing a secondary cancer in later life due to radiation treatment are significantly reduced.
  • Proton Therapy is highly indicated for radiation treatment of pediatric cancers due to the high risk of children to develop secondary cancers from their initial treatment later in life.
  • Studies have consistently demonstrated that proton therapy patients experience a higher quality of life during and after treatment.
  • The only radiation treatment available that can treat recurrent tumors that have previously been treated with radiation.
  • Treatments are non-invasive and painless and typically take 15-45 minutes per treatment.

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