Proton Therapy Center to Treat Lung Cancer Breaks Ground in Central Florida

MD Anderson Cancer Center proton therapy

MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando will build a new proton therapy center to provide a rare treatment option for lung cancer patients in the Southeast.

The center — one of 41 proton therapy centers in the world and one of only 10 in the United States — will highlight a relatively new form of radiation therapy that sends targeted proton beams to cancerous tumors in certain organs. Cancer patients are taking notice because traditional radiation therapies often yield less-than-stellar results.

“Proton therapy is the cutting edge of cancer fighting technology, and now we’ll have it in Orlando,” said Dr. Mark Roh, president of MD Anderson Orlando.

Nearly 200,000 new cases of lung cancer are diagnosed each year in the United States, making it the second-most common cancer in the country. That large volume heightens the potential impact of the new therapy center, which is expected to open in 2014.

An Investment in Life

Construction of Orlando’s Proton Therapy Center comes with a $25 million price tag, an investment that can’t be quantified by lung cancer patients and their families.

“We’re joining a very elite group of centers,” Dr. Roh said.

According to Dr. Naren Ramakrishna, director of proton therapy for MD Anderson, this treatment is uniquely effective for cancerous tumors located on vital organs such as the lungs.

The MD Anderson Cancer Center is a recognized name within the cancer community. It ranks No. 1 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2012 top-ranked hospitals for cancer list.

This new proton center is slated to be a three-story tower that covers more than 15,000 square feet. One floor will be underground and will house a massive superconducting synchrocyclotron proton accelerator, a core component of the treatment that enables the proton therapy to occur.

Technology advancements have scaled down the size of proton accelerators to fit within a typical treatment center. According to Dr. Daniel Buchholz, chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology, older accelerators used to occupy facilities the size of football fields or larger.

Other recent improvements help doctors direct proton beams to tumors in precise locations of the body with more accuracy, minimizing extraneous exposure and risk.

MD Anderson Orlando expects to receive the MEVION S250 proton accelerator in April 2013 and will begin treating patients at the beginning of the following year.

Shortcomings of Today’s Lung Cancer Treatments

Excitement for Central Florida’s new center is heightened because the facility will treat a disease infamously known for its limited treatment options and high mortality rates.

Late stage diagnoses of lung cancer also contribute to the lack of progress. Rarely is this disease detected in Stage I or II. As the cancer spreads, treatment becomes more complicated because the cancerous cells occupy more organs, making them harder to address.

Traditional lung cancer treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the three. Evidence shows that these treatments aren’t effective enough: only 43 percent of lung cancer patients live one year or more after diagnosis. MD Anderson cites the five-year survival rate at 15 percent.

In addition, fewer than 30 percent of most lung cancer patients are eligible for surgery, arguably the most beneficial procedure for long-term survival. Almost 80 percent of patients are candidates for chemotherapy, but this treatment rarely eliminates the cancer entirely and often has to be given after surgery.

Experts say the localized targeting and control of radiation from proton therapy should yield more positive results than surgery, chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Lung cancer patients who receive proton therapy will undergo treatment for 15-30 minutes each day, usually multiple days a week. Treatment sessions can last up to seven weeks and may be implemented with additional procedures.

Mark Hall joined the Mesothelioma Center as a writer in 2011. Prior to joining the content team, Mark graduated from the University of Florida and then spent several years writing about business, entrepreneurship and technology for various online publications.

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