Celebrating 10 Years of proton therapy in the Northwest; proton therapy clinical trials; newest team coordinator, Jenny Dang

Staff group photo

March 2023 marks the 10th Anniversary of the proton therapy facility. Thank you to all our dedicated patients, doctors and staff who've made this place what it is today. Also, learn more about the ongoing clinical trials our doctors are conducting and meet our newest team coordinator, Jenny Dang.

Celebrating 10 Years of Proton Therapy in the Pacific Northwest 

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center – Proton Therapy. We officially opened our doors on March 8, 2013 and have since treated more than 4,500 patients.

Proton therapy is an effective tool to treat many types of solid tumors. We treat brain cancers, head and neck cancers, lung cancer, breast cancer, gastrointestinal cancers, prostate cancer, sarcomas, ocular cancers, childhood cancers, and more. 

“It has been our center's privilege to serve our community over the past decade,” says medical director of Fred Hutch - Proton Therapy, Jing Zeng, MD. “Thousands of patients have entrusted us with their care, and we have been able to celebrate many triumphs together. We have grown as a center, a community, and a family. With our patients' dedicated support, we have advanced the frontier of cancer research and published many studies on the use of proton radiation in cancer treatment.”

New Tool to Fight Cancer

Bringing proton therapy to the region was the brainchild of the center’s first medical director, George Laramore, MD PhD, FACR, FASTRO, who retired at the end of 2022. When he was chair of UW Medicine’s Radiation Oncology department, Laramore recognized how important proton therapy could be to providing more treatment options to our patients. He proposed bringing proton therapy to the region in 2008 and was there when the facility broke ground in March 2011, largely through his efforts. 

“We are grateful to Dr. Laramore for his initiative on this. It allows us to provide our patients with the widest range of care,” says Nancy Davidson, MD, executive vice president of Clinical Affairs at Fred Hutch. “From immunotherapy to transplant, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center prides itself on being at the forefront of research and clinical care. Proton therapy is one aspect of this leadership.”

When we opened, we were the 11th proton therapy facility in the U.S., and since then, the number of centers has leapt to 40. We remain the only cancer center in the Pacific Northwest to offer proton therapy. 

In the past 10 years, we have made many improvements to the facility, including upgrades to our technology such as pencil beam scanning (PBS) and intensity modulated proton therapy (IMPT). Our first patient was treated for an astrocytoma of the brain. Later in 2013, we treated our first childhood cancer patient and our first patient to receive PBS. Today, nearly all patients are treated using PBS. 

We’ve also expanded the types of cancers we treat by opening additional treatment rooms, specialized treatment chairs that help us target different types of tumors – for example for ocular cancers – and other technologies such as PBS and the active breathing coordinator, which helps patients hold their breath for abdominal and thoracic cancer treatments.
Currently, we’re currently conducting preclinical trials in FLASH therapy, which may usher in a new and exciting way to treat patients with proton radiation.

Disease Sites Graph 2013
Disease sites by proportion treated in 2013.
Disease sites Graph since opening
Disease sites by proportion treated since opening.

Focusing on the Patient’s Experience

Prioritizing the patient experience was integral to the initial leaders of the proton therapy center. By hiring genuinely caring people, creating a welcoming space, and facilitating experiences that have made the place stand out, our leadership focused on excellence in patient care and service in addition to treatment excellence. In fact, Press-Ganey surveys have shown consistently that patients rate their proton therapy experience in the upper 90s on a scale of 1 to 100. In the past year, the overall satisfaction score of the Fred Hutch proton therapy facility was 95.2, with “courtesy and friendliness of staff,” and “likelihood of recommending our practice to others” rated at 98.5 and 98.2 respectively.

“The whole place is so patient-centered. The doctors and staff made me feel like more than a number,” says former Fred Hutch breast cancer patient, Kathy Gill. “The people and the facility make you feel warm, invited, soothed. I was happy to come early and unwind and stay after to get myself together for the rest of the day.” 

Reggie Edge, former Fred Hutch prostate cancer patient, says, “Throughout my treatment, I felt warmly cared for by the staff. The experience of finishing my proton therapy almost brought me to tears. It was the card that had been signed by every staff member that made the moment — and the place — even more special.”

As we look towards the next 10 years, the proton therapy doctors and staff will continue to work together to fulfill our mission of providing world-class patient care, leading the advancement of cancer research, and educating the world on using advanced proton radiation to help our patients.

“When we opened our center 10 years ago, the mission was simple: to bring proton therapy to the Pacific Northwest. Since that time, we have had the privilege of caring for cancer patients from all over the world,” says former medical director, Ramesh Rengan, MD, PhD, FASTRO. “With the integration of proton therapy into the innovative research programs of the new Fred Hutch Cancer Center, we envision that protons will provide an even greater benefit to the cancer treatment paradigm in the next decade. It is with deep gratitude to our patients and utmost humility that we now celebrate the 10th anniversary of our center and look forward to a very bright future ahead together.”

Continuing to Bring the Best Care to Our Patients

Clincal Trial

Staying at the forefront of knowledge is a critical part of providing the best possible care for our patients. This is why many of our doctors engage in research through clinical trials. “Randomized trials represent the highest level of evidence we can generate to understand the benefits and harms of an intervention,” says Yolanda Tseng, MD, one of Fred Hutch– Proton Therapy’s experts.

Fred Hutch has one of the world’s most active clinical trial programs - providing new hope for our patients every day. Every advance in cancer treatment has resulted from clinical trials. At the proton therapy facility, many of our doctors conduct trials to see if proton therapy is better in various ways than other treatments, or how proton therapy works in conjunction with other treatments. 

Although retrospective reports suggest lower rates of toxicity with proton therapy, our prostate cancer lead, Jonathan Chen, MD, PhD,  hopes a clinical trial he's conducting will show that proton therapy has a definitive advantage over X-ray therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer. “There is theoretically less radiation exposure to organs at risk based on principles of physics. However, there has never been a prospective, randomized trial comparing the two treatments for prostate cancer until the multi-center PARTIQoL trial. So, the results are eagerly awaited to finally help shed light on this issue.” The trial recently closed to enrolling new patients in 2022. We expect to finalize results in a couple of years. 

The COMPPARE trial will also provide high quality prospective evidence regarding the differences between proton therapy and X-ray therapy in the treatment of prostate cancer. However, it was designed slightly differently and did not randomly assign patients to receive protons or X-rays. “Two other big differences in this trial are its scale – it enrolled more than 2500 patients, about seven times more patients than PARTIQoL – and that it’s the first prospective randomized trial to test if a shorter course of radiation treatment is safe and effective with proton therapy, as has already been established for X-ray therapy,” says Dr. Chen.

Smith Apisarnthanarax, MD, is recruiting for Radiation Therapy with Protons or Photons in Treating Patients with Liver Cancer, a clinical trial that will help us understand the role of proton therapy for patients with liver cancer. Patients in this study have cancers that cannot be surgically removed. “If it shows a benefit for proton therapy compared to conventional photon radiation, it could change the standards of care for the radiation treatments of liver cancer patients,” he says. 

Tseng is leading a randomized trial that will help us understand whether proton therapy is associated with lower rates of long-term toxicity, specifically neuro-cognitive decline, compared to photon techniques in patients with gliomas. This is important because radiation to the brain can have significant side effects. The hope is that proton therapy can definitively minimize these effects. 

For more information on clinical trials involving proton therapy, please see our clinical trials page.

Introducing Jenny Dang, Team Coordinator

Jenny Dang

Jenny Dang joined Fred Hutch – Proton Therapy earlier this year as our new team coordinator. Dang lives in Renton, Washington. Her grandfather brought his family from Vietnam in an arduous, months-long journey by boat in 1979. “His courage, persistence and dedication inspire me,” says Dang. “It is what motivates me daily to work hard, and one day achieve my future goals.” 

Dang is the first in the family to go to college – she obtained her degree in global health/public health at the University of Washington in 2021. Since then, she has worked in health care as a certified nursing assistant and patient services representative. 

As a team coordinator, Dang schedules CT simulation appointments. Once she has received a patient’s plan from physics and dosimetry, she also coordinates with the patient and their care team to schedule proton therapy treatments, as well as any integrative medicine appointments. Once a week, she organizes on-treatment visits (OTVs) between the patient and their oncologist.

“I was interested in oncology and proton therapy because I have had close family members and friends who have been impacted by cancer,” says Dang. “It is very rewarding to know that I play a critical role in helping patients receive the care that they need. In the future, I want to pursue a career in health administration.” 

In her free time, Dang enjoys staying active by going to yoga classes and taking her Yorkie, Kobe, for walks on the trails by her house. She likes to spend time with her mother, helping out in the kitchen and learning how to cook her favorite Vietnamese dishes. With friends, she likes to go to R&B concerts and music festivals.

Travel also brings her joy, and Dang’s dream vacation would be a trip to Asia to visit Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. So far, her favorite destinations have been Bali, Barcelona, Venice and Hawaii. If that all sounds sunny, it’s because Dang despises the rain. She would love to live somewhere warmer for a few years but will always return to the Northwest to be close to her family. 

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