by Nancy Ryerson
, Staff Writer | September 26, 2013
From the September 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
What makes you personally believe in proton therapy?
Having lived in southern California for quite some time, and being close to the Loma Linda center, I’ve seen the results in real life, if you will. I’m not a scientist, I’m not a doctor, but the physics is pretty simple once you look at it. If you’re able to deliver energy to the tumor, and kill the cancer cells, but spare the surrounding tissue, that’s a good thing. You can control the dose to the tumor, and it effectively kills the cancer cells, but it spares the surrounding organs and tissues that are healthy. And that’s where I see this being so important, for things like pediatric patients, brain tumors, breast tumors, lung tumors, things like that.
Do you feel like people still have a lot of misconceptions or negative views towards proton therapy, especially in terms of prostate cancer treatment?
Yes. It’s all about prostate cancer. I haven’t seen anybody question the efficacy of proton for pediatric patients, because it just works so well. I think it’s about prostate, because quite frankly, photons work quite well for prostate cancer, and we admit that. And they have for years. So as for the comparison between photons and protons for prostate caner, you can argue the plusses and minuses there. But now with the latest type of delivery for protons, which is pencil beam scanning and intensity modulated proton therapy, where you can focus the proton much more accurately and deliver the dose by managing the intensity — that’s something that hasn’t even been around with protons for a while. That’s going to be a game changer even in the prostate argument. All of the new centers, the ones we’re doing, the ones that the Mayo Clinic is doing, all of those centers are going to have pencil beam and IMPT [intensity-modulated proton therapy]. That’s a big difference.
Another issue is that there aren’t a lot of clinical trials comparing and proving the difference. The reason has been twofold. Number one, if I’m a 65-year-old man and I’ve done my homework, and I truly believe that protons is what I want, I don’t want to go into a randomized trial when I go to a proton center. The second thing is that there are only a handful of proton centers around. There’s not a lot of available beam time. And so if you’re treating patients with protons you don’t have the chance to do all these trials. But with more centers, we’re going to be able to do clinical trials across the board, with all types of cancers. We’re actively supporting a research group of all these centers that are working to do that. More protons, means more beam time, and will probably mean more information that patients as well as their doctors can have to make the right decision.