BACKGROUND

The Voice of the Proton Community

The National Association for Proton Therapy (NAPT) is registered as an independent, non-profit, public benefit corporation providing education and awareness for the public, professional and governmental communities. Founded in 1990, it promotes the therapeutic benefits of proton therapy for cancer treatment in the U.S. and abroad.

After the end of the Second World War, building on discoveries made during work on the Manhattan Project and other activities, a group of scientists and physicists developed particle accelerators of much higher energy and began applying what they had learned to help benefit mankind. They focused on the application of nuclear medicine for diagnostic purposes and the treatment of certain diseases. One particular interesting possibility had to do with improving the treatment of cancerous tumors, especially those previously unreachable or not treatable without inducing significant damage to healthy surrounding tissues.

Proton beam delivery gantryDr. Robert R. Wilson, a physicist who had worked on developing particle accelerators, published a paper in 1946 that first proposed the medical use of protons for cancer therapy. Less than 10 years later, protons were first used to treat patients with certain cancers as research and laboratory applications increased rapidly in the next three decades. But it was not until the opening of the Proton Treatment Center at Loma Linda University Medical Center (LLUMC) in southern California that the full benefits of this new treatment modality could be offered to patients in a clinical setting. Loma Linda was the first to build a hospital based proton center and treated its first patient with proton therapy in October of 1990. Since then, LLUMC's proton center has treated more than 10,000 patients. It is designed to treat about 150 patients a day. Worldwide, more than 30,000 patients have been treated with protons for various cancers and other diseases.

Hundreds of millions of dollars of federal funding went into the development of the high energy physics technology that accelerated the application of proton beam radiation therapy. Much of the early work was done at the U.S. Department of Energy and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab) outside Chicago. In the mid-1980s, Fermilab designed and built the accelerator that is now being used at Loma Linda. By early 2006, there were 5 regional proton facilities in the U.S. providing cancer treatment to patients nationwide. Today there are 10 Proton Centers in operation and 8 new centers in development.

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