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Ten years ago, doubters of the use of proton beam therapy to treat cancer were to be found not only among victims of the illness, but within the medical community as well.
Since then, the success of the Loma Linda Proton Treatment Center in southern California has made believers of the skeptics. Indeed, approximately 140 patients are receiving proton therapy treatments on an average day.
After successfully treating thousands of patients , doctors at the Loma Linda facility say proton therapy has turned lives around and holds even greater promise for the future.
"We still have a long way to go to realize our goal of treating all types of tumors and diseases," said James M. Slater, director of the center, who pioneered proton therapy at Loma Linda.
Proton beam therapy is a type of radiation therapy using fast-moving sub-atomic particles such as protons traveling close to the speed of light.
At the center's 10th anniversary celebration, proton patients offered moving testaments to the use of the therapy.
Jennifer Gardner, a college sophomore, told a packed her life changed dramatically in 1997 when she was diagnosed with two brain tumors.
"They were supposed to be removed, but when they opened me up and found cancer, it was inoperable. One day, I had all my dreams and hopes, and it was crushed - everything I wanted for myself was just gone."
But she celebrated her 20th birthday three years later because of proton therapy.
Roy Butler, a 62-year old chemistry professor from Vermont, rejected his doctor's recommendation for surgery for prostate cancer, opting instead to undergo proton therapy.
"It was the best decision I ever made," he said. "I had none of the abusive side effects of chemotherapy and standard radiation."
After completing his treatment, Butler decided to stay in the Loma Linda area found a position at the University of Redlands as a professor of organic chemistry. He also continues to assist with the weekly prostate patient support group meetings at Loma Linda.
Commenting on what former proton patients say after their treatments, Dr. Jerry Slater, vice chairman of the radiation medicine department at Loma Linda, said: "Seeing patients go on to lead healthy and full lives after treatment is our greatest mark of success. We got into this field to really do good for our patients. When you see good outcomes and few side effects, that is rewarding. "
To learn more about proton therapy at LLUMC, call 1-800-protons (776-8667).
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