Proton Beams Emerge as Gold Standard in Therapy
Back in 1990, when Loma Linda University Medical Center first began treating patients with proton therapy, it was called the future of cancer treatment. Now, eight years and almost 5000 patients later, proton beam therapy is blazing a new trail for cancer treatment into the next millennium and is looked upon as the "gold standard" of treatment for people with localized cancerous tumors. Additional centers are being planned, and the first one on the East Coast, a joint project of Mass General and Harvard, will open in Boston early next year.
The Proton Center at Loma Linda University in Southern, California uses high-energy proton particles --a significant advancement over traditional radiation treatment -- to deliver a beam of particle energy with surgical precision to a specified spot in the body. Side effects typically associated with conventional radiation are virtually eliminated. Proton therapy is used in more than 20 cancer sites and on other diseases as well.
This form of therapy is called "bloodless surgery" because it leaves vital organs and healthy tissue near the tumor unaffected. It has none of the traumatic side effects associated with other therapies. It's painless and has been found to be useful in treating a variety of conditions, such as:
- Prostate cancer: More than 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year. Proton therapy's precise and concentrated dose of tumor-destroying energy allows for very little "scatter" to affect the bladder and rectal areas and sends higher doses to the prostate gland. This means higher success rates and fewer, if any, side effects. Approximately 100 patients are treated each day at Loma Linda's Proton Center. About half of them are receiving prostate cancer treatments.
- Degenerative eye disease: An estimated 1 million Americans suffer from severe sight loss from an eye disease called age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Most frequently, the disease appears in people over age 60, but it can occur in those as young as 40. The part of the eye known as the macula allows for central vision that's necessary for reading, driving, and recognizing faces. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. 90 percent of macular degeneration cases are "dry," slow to develop and only cause mild vision loss. But for the other 10 percent who develop the "wet" form of the disease, fluids build up around the macula, and central vision can be lost. Symptoms can develop quickly and legal blindness can occur in a matter of weeks if left unattended. To date, more than 150 patients have experienced encouraging results with proton therapy.
- Children's tumors: In the past year, Loma Linda University has treated approximately 50 children with proton therapy, mostly for brain tumors. The youngest being only 2 years of age. At least half of the children are brought to Loma Linda from outside of California, and often from outside of the country. With children, the benefits from proton therapy are important because radiation exposure to the brain in young children is associated with the development of intellectual damage.If too much brain tissue is damaged --which is a possibility when undergoing conventional radiation therapy --personality development and intelligence can suffer, especially in children under 5.
- Lung and breast cancer: In the near future, The Proton Center at LLUMC will treat lung and breast cancer with proton therapy. More information is available by calling 1-800-PROTONS (1-800-776-8667). Additional information can also be obtained from the LLUMC Web site, www.llu.edu/proton/ .
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