The Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, together with ProCure Treatment Centers Inc., held a ceremonial groundbreaking March 22 on a new proton therapy center in north Seattle that will provide a first-of-its-kind treatment option for cancer patients throughout the Northwest. When it opens in early 2013 on the campus of Northwest Hospital & Medical Center, the 60,000-square-foot facility will be among only a handful of centers in the nation to offer proton therapy.
Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment and an important alternative to standard X-ray radiation for many types of cancer and some noncancerous tumors. Currently available at only nine centers in the United States, proton therapy is beneficial in treating a broad range of tumors, including those of the brain, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, head and neck, lung, and prostate, as well as sarcomas and many pediatric cancers.
Pinpoint precise radiotherapy
While proton and X-ray therapy both kill cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing, the difference between the two is that protons can be controlled more precisely than X-rays. Proton beams deposit the greatest amount of radiation into the tumor and then stop, which allows patients to receive higher doses with less damage to nearby healthy tissue. In contrast, X-ray radiation releases substantial doses of energy quickly after penetrating the skin, which can damage healthy tissue and organs on the way to the tumor.
The precision of proton therapy makes it especially effective for treating children and adults with anatomically complex tumors, such as those at the base of the skull and along the spinal cord. Patients who receive proton therapy generally experience fewer side effects compared to those who undergo traditional X-ray-based radiation therapy.
Better pediatric tumor control
Since children’s bodies are still growing, they are more sensitive to damage to healthy tissue caused by X-ray radiation and can experience more serious short- and long-term side effects from treatment. Studies show that using proton therapy to treat pediatric tumors provides excellent results in controlling tumors, reducing damage to healthy tissue, and lowering risks of tumors returning later in life.
“The SCCA was formed to accelerate the development and evaluation of new therapies for cancer, and in turn make those therapies more widely available in our region,” said Norm Hubbard, SCCA executive vice president. “Proton therapy has emerged as a compelling treatment for adults and children with cancer and other tumors. Prior to the development of this center, patients would have to travel hundreds of miles to receive this precise, lifesaving treatment. It’s also fitting that this groundbreaking launches the SCCA’s second decade of treating patients from the Northwest and beyond.”
Like other clinical programs at SCCA, the proton center is expected to attract patients from across the country and around the world. SCCA leaders expect to treat about 1,400 patients annually.
“As satisfying as today is, the real reward is going to come when the doors open to treat patients and the Pacific Northwest has its first proton therapy center,” said John Henderson, chief operating officer of ProCure, an organization based in Bloomington, Ind., which in 2009 formed a joint venture with SCCA.
“ProCure brings expertise in proton therapy through its experienced management team, its ability to leverage scale in purchasing and operations, as well as its substantial investment in training for physicians and therapists. This experience and expertise significantly decreases the overall cost and risk of the project to the SCCA,” Hubbard said.
ProCure's fourth network facility
SCCA will provide clinical leadership as well as operational integration into its comprehensive cancer services. Physicians will be able to lead research efforts to determine the best application of this developing technology.
"Proton radiotherapy is the most precise form of radiotherapy available today and will improve the outcomes for a large number of cancer patients,” said Dr. George Laramore, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Washington and medical director of the new proton therapy center.
The Seattle facility is the fourth in the ProCure network, which includes centers in Oklahoma City, Chicago (opened in 2010) and Somerset, N.J., which serves the metro New York area (opening 2012). ProCure is the only health care company in the world that has developed and is operating multiple proton centers.
SCCA and ProCure chose to build the proton center at Northwest Hospital because of the hospital’s history of building health care partnerships to provide emerging and innovative treatments to its community, and because the center will be conveniently located near other cancer services and complementary facilities on the hospital campus.
The new facility will create approximately 100 full-time jobs and 400 temporary positions for construction and start-up operations. Washington-based contractors will be used to construct the building.
Federal support and private grants, including one from Seattle’s Norcliffe Foundation, contributed to the financing of the proton center. To learn more about proton therapy and the new center, visit www.procure.com/wa.
[Adapted from a joint SCCA/ProCure news release]