A newly forged collaboration between WellSpan Health and the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC) is expanding South Central Pennsylvanians’ access to the latest in tissue-sparing, precision cancer care technology — proton therapy — while leveraging the expertise of providers from both entities.
In September 2016, the first patients from WellSpan underwent proton therapy at the new $200 million facility at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. Proton therapy can deliver an increased radiation dose that stops specifically at the tumor site, protecting much of the surrounding normal tissue. It is easily tolerated, noninvasive and often results in fewer side effects than traditional radiation.
MPTC is one of only 25 centers across the country that currently utilize this technology. Under the collaboration agreement with MPTC, WellSpan’s radiation oncologists work alongside University of Maryland School of Medicine radiation oncology faculty to treat patients at MPTC, fostering continuity of care. The partnership is designed to facilitate a smooth process for WellSpan patients who choose this outpatient treatment at MPTC.
“We have always envisioned the Maryland Proton Treatment Center as a regional resource, with healthcare providers from around the area joining together to collaborate, not only for the benefit of individual patients, but also to advance the field of radiation oncology,” says William F. Regine, MD, FACR, FACRO, MPTC’s Executive Director. Dr. Regine is also the Isadore & Fannie Schneider Foxman Endowed Chair and Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
“Collaboration with the Maryland Proton Treatment Center has been wonderful,” says Reena Pramanik, DO, one of the WellSpan radiation oncologists treating patients at MPTC. “They have a complimentary concierge service that seamlessly provides patients with everything they need even before they step through the door, including free valet parking and assistance with lodging. This, combined with MPTC’s leading-edge equipment and the expertise of both WellSpan and University of Maryland School of Medicine clinicians, really benefits our patients.”
“As physicians, this collaboration permits us to provide a cancer treatment that is available at only a handful of centers across the United States. Offering our patients an advanced treatment option such as proton therapy is an enormous advantage for their care.”
— Ori Shokek, MD, radiation oncologist at WellSpan Health
Protons: Precise and Powerful
MPTC is the only center in the region to offer pencil beam proton therapy in every treatment room. This technique is highly effective at delivering a precise, powerful dose of radiation directly to the cancerous tumor with minimal damage to surrounding normal tissue.
“Protons travel directly to the tumor site and stop. They deliver radiation to the tumor but do not continue through the body,” says WellSpan radiation oncologist Ori Shokek, MD, who also treats patients at MPTC. “As a result, we can get a greater radiation dose into the target and very little radiation outside of the target.”
Protons do the most damage when they approach their stopping point. With this in mind, radiation oncologists adjust the velocity of the beam to help ensure the radiation dose comes to a stop directly on the cancer site, significantly reducing the amount that impacts healthy tissues in front of the site and potentially eliminating exit dose entirely.
“We’re able to greatly reduce collateral damage to healthy tissue,” Dr. Pramanik explains. “This makes it an excellent option for many patients.”
For those patients who would benefit from proton therapy, one of the first questions they have is how the cost compares to traditional photon therapy. MPTC is one of the few centers in the country to offer proton therapy at a cost-neutral rate to photon therapy.
Dr. Pramanik notes three types of tumors that may warrant proton therapy over traditional radiation therapy:
Pediatric tumors — By minimizing damage to healthy organs in children and adolescents, proton therapy enhances the ability of pediatric patients’ organs and other tissues to develop normally.
Tumors in close proximity to vital organs — Solid tumors near critical organs may also require proton therapy. While patients who have cancers located in the brain or near the brain stem receive potentially the greatest benefit from proton therapy, it can also be highly effective in treating cancers of the breast, gastrointestinal tract, liver, lung, prostate and spinal cord.
Recurring tumors — For patients with tumors that have returned to a location where conventional radiation was utilized, retreatment with proton therapy is a safer alternative.
Proton therapy treatments at MPTC can also be pre-checked with CT imaging in order to correct for any movement of the patient or the tumor, and the noninvasive nature of the treatment significantly reduces side effects. Actual delivery of the proton beam takes only about five minutes, and appointments typically last less than one hour.
A Bright Future
Conventional radiation therapy remains an excellent option for many patients. However, proton therapy is increasingly recognized by healthcare providers for its remarkable benefits.
“Traditionally, proton radiation therapy was used for only very limited cancer diagnoses,” Dr. Shokek says. “However, I believe we’re going to see it utilized to help more and more patients battle cancer.”
If you have a patient who might benefit from proton therapy, call WellSpan Radiation Oncology at 717-741-8180.