The Proteus One Gantry system being installed at the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Twitter photo)
Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan is poised to become the latest proton therapy center in the United States having recently scored a Proteus One Gantry system that precisely directs cancer-killing proton beams at tumors.
Manufactured in Antwerp, Belgium, it's a compact alternative to the massive, three-story systems installed in some proton therapy centers, making it possible to achieve the same precision without making the therapy cost prohibitive for the facility.
Beaumont's center is expected to open in the spring of 2017.
There are currently fewer than two dozen proton therapy centers in the United States, but the growing interest in the advanced cancer therapy is causing more hospitals to take a close look at building their own centers. New refinements in the existing technology are lowering costs at a time when more cancer patients are looking for this treatment option, which avoids the use of a typical X-ray beam.
A conventional X-ray beam used in radiation therapy goes in one side of the body and comes out the other, doing damage to not just cancerous tissue but the healthy cells that surround it; proton beams, by contrast, can be stopped at a fixed point, and molded to the dimensions of the affected area. So not only is the healthy surrounding tissue largely unaffected, but tumors that were previously inoperable are now treatable. That includes tumors next to vital organs, or even at the base of one's spine.
Proton therapy is especially important when treating children. Because of their small size, children are vulnerable to the damage and side effects of X-ray radiation therapy.
"Children treated for cancer today usually live a very long time," said Dr. Craig Stevens, health system chair and radiation oncology professor, in a statement. ""This longevity makes reducing side effects that much more important.
"Protons will be important for our adult patients too," he said. "We will be able to treat many primary tumors better with protons than with more conventional approaches, but perhaps most importantly we will have the ability to potentially cure patients that have failed conventional treatment from other centers."
Beaumont Hospital's $40 million, two-story proton therapy building will be 25,200 square-feet. The first floor will house a one-room proton therapy center and the second floor will be home to the Beaumont Children's Pediatric Oncology and Hematology program.
While proton technology has been around since the 1940s, the first center in the United States wasn't built until around 1960, and it's only been during the past 10 to 15 years -- when MRIs and CT scanners became more prevalent -- that more institutions were able to take advantage of the targeting ability of protons. An increasing number of centers have come online since that time.