by John R. Fischer
, Senior Reporter | April 06, 2020
From the April 2020 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
A six-year-old boy underwent multiple surgeries to treat a malignant brain tumor but the disease kept coming back. It wasn’t until the child underwent proton therapy at the Medical Institute of Berezin Sergey in St. Petersburg, Russia, that the cancer was fully eradicated and he could get back to having a regular life.
“Before, he would have three surgeries every three or four months,” Dr. Arkadi Stolpner, owner of the institute, told HCB News. “The tumor continued to grow. We treated this boy, and now two years later he is tumor free. There are no more surgeries needed because nothing is growing.”
Stories like that are not uncommon. As proton therapy adoption increases, the body of evidence shows that for many cancers, there is no better treatment available. That’s why major cities around the world, such as New York, Madrid, and Chennai have all opened up proton therapy facilities in the last two years.
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For pediatric patients specifically, the advantages of better outcomes and fewer side effects mean improved quality of life for many decades to come. Ensuring these young patients have access to proton therapy, however, is a challenge in its own right with a range of unique obstacles.
Logistical challenges at home and abroad
Anesthesia is often used to alleviate young children of their anxiety during proton therapy procedures, but lengthens the amount of time required for delivering a course of proton therapy.
Despite increased investment in proton therapy in recent years, there are still fewer than 90 facilities in the world, according to the Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group (PTCOG). For the vast majority of pediatric patients, receiving treatment requires traveling long distances, making lodging arrangements and potential time off work for the parents who come along.
“It’s really important that centers have housing options for patients,” said Dr. Stephanie Perkins, associate professor in the department of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine. “We are very fortunate to have the Ronald McDonald House, which offers free lodging for patients. There is still the cost of car transportation but we’re also very fortunate to have some resources to provide funds to patients for travel. Reimbursements for travel and lodging are typically not included in U.S. healthcare coverage plans.”