Heavyweight cancer-fighter arrives at SCCA proton center

The 220-ton cyclotron will offer the most precise form of cancer therapy available today
The SCCA's new cyclotron will offer the most precise form of cancer therapy available today. Photo by Dean Forbes

Seattle welcomed a heavyweight health care newcomer on March 17-18 with the arrival of a 220-ton cancer fighter from Belgium. The weekend marked the delivery of the cyclotron for Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy, a ProCure Center, located on Northwest Hospital & Medical Center's campus.

The cyclotron is the core piece of equipment used in proton therapy, an alternative to standard X-ray radiation for the treatment of cancer. It can accelerate protons to nearly the speed of light in order to create a beam of energy that will deliver targeted and effective treatments to cancer patients. SCCA Proton Therapy will open in spring 2013.  

The new center, which will treat approximately 1,400 patients annually, is the result of a partnership between ProCure Treatment Centers, Inc. and SCCA. It will be the first proton therapy center in the Northwest.

"The cyclotron is an incredible piece of equipment-remarkable not only in size but also for its scientifically advanced cancer fighting abilities," said Annika Andrews, president of SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center. "It offers the most precise form of cancer therapy available today and its arrival brings us one step closer to providing proton therapy to cancer patients in the Pacific Northwest."

'The heart of a proton center'

The cyclotron is the source of protons used in proton therapy and the heart of a proton center. It removes the electron from the proton in a hydrogen atom and accelerates the remaining proton to two-thirds the speed of light. Electromagnets then steer groups of protons into a beam line. The beam is shaped specifically to conform to the tumor size and shape. Precise delivery of protons to the patient is supported by a highly advanced computer controlled, state-of-the-art robotic patient positioning system.

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. Since proton beams significantly reduce the amount of radiation deposited in normal tissues, patients who receive proton therapy generally experience fewer side effects compared to those who undergo traditional X-ray-based radiation therapy. 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.

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