Bain Medicine/Virtua Health opens first proton therapy center in South Jersey for cancer patients

Executives at Virtua Health and Penn Medicine this week reviewed the region’s new $45 million proton therapy center, the first of its kind in the South Jersey offers proton beam therapy to cancer patients.

The center on the campus of Virtua Voorhees Hospital is It is scheduled to open its doors to patients early next year. He. She A proton beam is used to stun or “radiate” cancer cells in patients with some of the more difficult-to-treat diseases, especially tumors of the spinal cord and brain that cannot be completely removed with surgery because they are too close to vital organs.

Kevin Mahoney, chief executive of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, praised the center as “the most modern weapon in the fight against cancer here in South Jersey.”

But many in the medical community are still debating Expensive technical benefits. Virtua Health and Penn Medicine are joining a small but growing number of hospitals — about 40 nationwide — to offer proton therapy.

The machine itself looks like it was part of a science fiction movie. A 90-ton device, called a cyclotron, occupies a warehouse-like space that spans three floors. The cyclotron accelerates protons to two-thirds the speed of light, about 450 million miles per hour.

A massive, cylinder-shaped structure, known as a “gantry,” rotates around a patient to direct a proton beam into the tumor with “millimeter precision,” Robert Beecher, assistant vice president of radiation oncology at Virtua Health, said during a tour. for the facility.

“Protons work best in tumors that aren’t moving, are usually smaller, and are close to critical structures that we don’t want to cause a lot of toxicity,” James Metz, chief of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine, said Tuesday at a VIP preview event. . The new facility is for hospital executives, board members, and donors.

There is limited research comparing the effectiveness of proton therapy with conventional radiation.

a study Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Washington found that patients treated with proton therapy were less likely to suffer severe side effects, compared to those who received radiation, but there was no difference in how long the patients lived. In a note about study limitations, the researchers said the study retrospectively analyzed 1,483 patient cases to compare the effectiveness of the two treatments, but could not be used to draw conclusions about the medical benefit of proton therapy.

In an editorial that accompanied the 2020 study, Henry Park and James Yeo of Yale University wrote that “the evidence needed to truly justify the expenditures for proton therapy … has to come from phase 3”. randomized clinical trials. “

Health insurance does not always cover proton beam therapy. Metz, of Penn Medicine, said Medicare covers it.

The scene, Tuesday evening, under a white party tent in the parking lot outside the New Center, was festive, with a three-piece band, food and drink, and lighting party.

“For me, the upcoming opening of this center is not only the highlight of the year, it’s definitely one of the major milestones in my career,” Stephanie Fendrick, Executive Vice President and Director of Strategy at Virtua Health, said during her applause in opening remarks. “We will welcome our first patient in about two months and more patients will come in the following months and years. I want each of these people to walk in our doors with a sense of hope.”

About 150 people attended, including Deb Harris, a 63-year-old resident of Voorhees and a cancer patient. Harris was diagnosed in 2017 with a brain tumor. After the surgery, she needed a year of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy. Harris told the crowd she had to rely on friends and family to drive her to Philadelphia, five days a week, where she underwent treatment at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center in Pennsylvania, which opened in 2010.

“I am pleased to know now that, starting very soon in South Jersey, my neighbors will have an easier and more accessible option if they need similar care,” she said.

Harris said a scan last month showed no disease, although she had a type of brain tumor that is likely to grow again.

Author Sarah Gantz contributed to this article.

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