Willis-Knighton Cancer Center Installing World's First Compact Proton Therapy System

By Dennis Foley - July 17, 2013 - KEEL News Radio 710 (

Compact Proton Therapy System

If you drive down I-20 and wonder what is being built at the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, it’s the world’s first compact proton therapy system.  The most important part, the 220-ton cyclotron, will be arriving this weekend on an 80-wheel trailer from Houston.

The ProteusONE system uses pencil beam scanning technology, which Willis-Knighton health officials say is the future of cancer treatments.  What makes Willis-Knighton’s system unique in comparison to the 11 other proton therapy centers in the country is that it is the world’s first compact system.

The other proton therapy centers are roughly the size of a football field and cost upwards of $200 million to construct.  Willis-Knighton’s compact system will only take 3700-square feet and will cost the health system only $40 million to construct.

To accommodate the new technology, the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center is building an extension behind the current building that will feature more traditional cancer treatment space as well as room for this new technology.

The system is built around a cyclotron, a machine that accelerates protons to two-thirds the speed of light and blasts it at the tumor cells, with the aim of destroying the cell without greatly affecting the healthy tissue around it.

However, the machine itself needs to be large enough to build up those speeds and blast it appropriately, as well as not affect anyone outside of the treatment area.

That means the system needs to be big, which also emphasizes the accomplishment that this facility will prove to get the power it needs without the space.

The 220-ton cyclotron will arrive in Shreveport this weekend after it’s cross-Atlantic shipment from Belgium and truck delivery from Houston.

In order to contain the cyclotron, a concrete vault is being built.  The vault contains 525 tons of reinforced steel as well as walls and ceilings that are ten feet thick.

The vault is necessary because of the nature of protons.  If you remember from science class in high school, all atoms have a proton, neutron, and an electron.  Because of the nature of a proton, it can easily penetrate through most substances and leave behind neutrons after interacting with another substance.

According to Willis-Knighton Cancer Center’s Medical Director of Radiation Oncology Dr. Lane Rosen, neutrons are more likely to cause cancer than the other components of an atom.  Because of this risk, a concrete vault the size and density of Willis-Knighton’s must be constructed.

It also shows the importance of this type of technology.  The two major forms of cancer radiation treatment use photons or protons.  When used in radiation treatment, the two types behave differently.

Photon treatment, which uses X-rays, has the common side effects that comes from radiating healthy tissue in pursuit of the cancerous cells.  Because of the nature of the radiation, it affects tissue in front and behind the cancerous cells as well as the cells itself.

With proton treatments, the radiation behaves like sliding car on ice.  Radiation is initially low entering the body, but slams right into the cancer cell, meaning the radiation does not continue through the body.

This new system allows oncologists to use protons to precisely target cancerous cells while minimizing the risk of future side effects.

This weekend, the cyclotron will arrive and will be installed into the concrete vault.  However, the first patients with this new system will not be treated until Fall 2014 to allow the cancer center to properly install and set up the proton therapy system.

The extension on the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center building will also include additional clinical space for radiation, medical, and surgical oncology, and expansion of patient-support services.  The project will also create 30 new health care professionals.

Here is an explanation of the system by Belgium’s Ion Beam Applications, who is working with Willis-Knighton on setting the system up.


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