The key factor that distinguishes proton therapy from traditional radiation treatment lies in the way that proton’s radiate. The radioactive dose generated by protons have different properties that, depending on internal location, can spare vital organs susceptible to radiation damage while still maintaining tumor control.
According to Dr. Tim Williams, a radiology oncologist and the medical director of the Proton Therapy Institute, conventional radiation is typically administered using X-rays or photons. While effective, photons traverse the entire patient, entering from one side and exiting through the other. Protons, however, possess a unique characteristic – they come to a stop within the targeted tissue.
Ginnie Busbey, diagnosed with stage one breast cancer, opted for proton therapy after learning about it from a salon client. Her tumor didn’t necessitate chemotherapy, but cancer cells near her heart and lungs did. Describing it as a “game-changer,” Busbey reported no sickness after 15 treatments, with subsequent scans showing clear results.
Presently, there are only 43 proton therapy centers in the United States, a number Dr. Williams believes should increase to meet the demand. However, the obstacle lies in the high cost of the technology. Dr. Williams acknowledges the machines’ substantial expense, citing the South Florida Proton Therapy Institute at Delray Medical Center as an example. Treating approximately 45 patients daily, this institute operates from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. to accommodate the demand for its services. Despite the challenges, the institute prioritizes patient accessibility, emphasizing continuous machine maintenance and operation.
“We have engineers on site 24/7, here throughout the weekend,” Andrew Barbosa, the center administrator said. “If we’re not treating, then we are doing maintenance on the machine.”