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University Hospitals in Cleveland first in state to treat cancer patient with proton therapy

Treatment has been gaining in prevalence due to the decreasing costs of running and operating the technology.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

Photo by <a href=""> University Hospitals </a>Photo by University Hospitals

University Hospitals in Cleveland recently became the first institution in Ohio to treat a patient using proton therapy. Their patient, a 24-year-old woman with rhabdomyosarcoma, was the first in the state to receive such care.

The new proton therapy center is located on the main campus of UH, directly between UH Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital and UH Seidman Cancer Center -- part of the National Cancer Institute-designated Case Comprehensive Cancer Center at Case Western Reserve University.

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation that targets tumors more directly than traditional radiation, potentially limiting damage to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. This makes proton therapy the ideal treatment for tumors in sensitive areas such as near the eye, brain, spine, heart and lungs, according to Mevion Medical Systems, developer of the UH proton technology.

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The treatment has been gaining in prevalence due to the decreasing costs of running and operating the technology. While centers once cost between $120 and $200 million, new refinements in the existing technology are lowering costs at a time when more cancer patients are looking for this treatment option.

[Also: Beaumont Hospital scores Gantry proton therapy machine, set to open new treatment center]

James Metz, chair of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine, said earlier this year that the cost of establishing a proton center has fallen from at least $100 million to about $30 or $40 million per center. The more recent focus, he said, has been on smaller facilities with smaller footprints, which has reduced the amount of up-front cost.

The MEVION S250 Series, the technology used at UH, provides treatment with a footprint that is less than half the size of the next largest system, and capital and operational costs that are the lowest on the market, according to the company.

The system at UH Seidman Cancer Center is Mevion's fifth clinically operational system and its third at an NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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 widespread -- 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; currently there are 23 in the United States.

[Also: As proton therapy becomes cheaper, more hospitals look to add centers]

In April, Mevion CEO Joe Jachinowski said proton centers' increasing profitability stems not just from a lower initial capital cost, but smaller staff sizes required to operate the system -- about eight people, all told. The smaller accelerators also draw significantly less power, with Jachinowski saying that electrical costs can be slashed from $1 million annually to about $80,000.

"At UH, we aim to provide the most advanced cancer treatment options, and the addition of our MEVION S250 furthers our commitment to bringing the best cancer care possible to our patients" said Nathan Levitan, MD, president of UH Seidman Cancer Center, in a statement. "We are particularly excited by the fact that this will be one of the few proton therapy centers in the world to be physically connected to a children's hospital, so both children and adults will be able to benefit from the unmatched precision of proton therapy."

Twitter: @JELagasse