More than 50 years ago, Dr. Robert R. Wilson proposed using proton radiation to fight cancerous tumors. Wilson was a scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project developing the atomic bomb and later championed the peaceful use of atomic energy. Today, the “father of proton therapy,” as he is often called, would be stunned by the growth and development of proton therapy in this country.
Before Wilson died, he saw his dream come true during a visit to the world’s first hospital-based proton center at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Southern California. His legacy lives on in the thousands of lives spared by proton therapy.
“The primary reasons for the growth of proton therapy, from a patient’s perspective, are that it is noninvasive and nonthreatening to healthy cells and organs, produces better outcomes and has fewer adverse side effects,” said Leonard Arzt, executive director of the National Association for Proton Therapy.
“We hear from grateful patients and their families, who have experienced the advantages of proton therapy. Many patients have come to realize that the treatment is no longer as frightening as the disease itself,” Arzt said.
Take, for example, men diagnosed with prostate cancer. Since the mid-1990s, men have taken their fate into their own hands, formed their own word-of-mouth networks, shared information and experiences, and referred themselves for treatment to the few proton therapy centers in the United States, such as Loma Linda University. Many of these men successfully sought noninvasive proton radiation therapy as an alternative to radical prostate surgery.
As additional medical studies are published about the advantages of proton radiation and the positive outcomes resulting from modern patient treatment protocols, the referring medical community may begin to realize that proton therapy could help their patients.
A good example is the newly published Journal of the American Medical Association study of 500 men who have had surgery for prostate cancer and have relapsed with the disease. The study says that if doctors treat them early with radiation therapy, such as proton radiation, these men can be cured. Other recent studies have established the greater efficacy of proton therapy over standard radiation therapy.
The increased demand for proton therapy has motivated one of the most prominent cancer centers in the world. The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston is building a $125 million proton facility due to open for patients in early 2006.