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Proton therapy center for treating cancer patients coming to Utah

Proton therapy center for treating cancer patients coming to Utah

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A new cancer treatment technology is one step closer to Salt Lake City. Today Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah (U of U) announced a plan to add a proton therapy center to its Cancer Hospital. Huntsman Cancer Foundation, HCI and the Cancer Hospital have agreed to dedicate the required funding to the project. The plan will now move forward to the next steps of approval, design and vendor selection.

Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy, a cancer treatment that delivers beams of radiation to shrink a tumor. Proton treatment has been found to be an effective radiation therapy option for numerous types of cancers. This includes childhood cancers, and adult cancers such as head and neck tumors, brain tumors, prostate cancer, lymphomas, pancreas cancer, and esophageal cancer. Proton therapy is often the favored course of treatment when a tumor is close to a vital structure, such as the spinal cord or brain stem.

HCI will use Intensity Modulated Proton Therapy (IMPT) technology for its center. IMPT delivers precise, pencil-thin beams of protons to a tumor, providing an advantage over earlier scattered-beam therapy used in other existing proton therapy centers. This helps to ensure the maximum dose of radiation to the tumor, while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Experience with early proton therapy machines has shown that patients for whom this treatment is appropriate benefit from reduced side effects when treated with proton therapy versus other radiation therapy approaches. And with IMPT, the team at HCI expects the benefit to patients in terms of reduced side effects to be even greater than with earlier proton technology.

“An intensity modulated proton therapy center in Utah adds a critical new tool to our array of outstanding radiation therapy technology and research here at HCI,” said Dennis Shrieve, MD, PhD, professor and chair of radiation oncology at the U of U and investigator at HCI. “This new technology will allow patients who will most benefit from proton therapy to avoid disruptive travel far from home. Further, HCI will be able to contribute to research in the most effective uses of intensity modulated proton therapy in the treatment of cancer.”

The nearest proton centers to Salt Lake City are currently located in southern Arizona and central California, approximately a 10-hour drive away. Patients who are given proton therapy may need to plan for a treatment course that occurs five days a week and spans four to eight weeks. HCI estimates it refers more than 40 patients per year to proton therapy centers out of state.

“Bringing proton therapy to Utah is completely in keeping with the vision we had when we founded HCI over two decades ago” said Jon M. Huntsman, founder and principal benefactor of HCI. “I remain absolutely committed to ensure that our patients have access to the very best equipment and expertise to fight their cancer. Proton therapy is yet another tool we will bring to our patients to give them the best possible outcomes against this dreadful disease.”

“Approximately half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy as a part of their treatment,” said John Sweetenham, MD, senior director of clinical affairs at HCI and professor of medicine at the U of U. “We have observed research in the effectiveness of proton therapy over the past several years. After extensive analysis, we determined it was an important investment to make in order to bring this technology to our patients here in the Mountain West.”

HCI leaders will initiate a public bidding process to identify an appropriate supplier. The project details are subject to final approval by institutional and state bodies.

The proposed location for this new technology will be at the south end of the Cancer Hospital at HCI. It is projected to serve approximately 200 patients a year. The center is projected to begin operation fall 2020.


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