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Proton therapy for cancer

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

The most high tech – and expensive – cancer treatment on the planet will go into use in a few weeks at the University of Pennsylvania. WHYY’s health and science reporter Kerry Grens visited the new proton therapy center during an opening celebration, and filed this report.


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P1010954A linear accelerator courses through the basement of the new proton therapy facility. The machine focuses a narrow beam of radiation right into the brain, lung, or neck of a cancer patient.

Stephen Hahn is the chief of the Radiation Oncology Department.

Hahn: It’s a tool that we think will give less side effects and allow us to give more dose to patients, which should result in more cures. Now, we have to prove that with clinical trials and that’s what we’re going to do.

Steve Hahn discussing features of the new facility

Steve Hahn discussing features of the new facility

Hahn says he’ll ask each of his patients to participate in trials to determine whether protons are any better than conventional radiation.

Hahn: We want to evaluate outcomes. So what we’re going to ask every patient who comes through the door is to collect data, now de-identified data so their privacy’s not interrupted. But we’re going to collect data so we can do exactly that – what is the outcome after treatment.

The $140 million facility is the 7th in the United States. Hahn says it’s the only one integrated with a cancer center.

P1010953Penn recently feted donors of the facility, including Ralph Roberts, the founder of Comcast. Roberts says his family has been plagued by cancer — including his mother, brother, father-in-law and brother-in-law.

The list continues.

Roberts: Our son Rob, our daughter Lisa, our daughter-in-law Aileen have also been stricken by this terrible disease. To hear this litany in one family seems almost incredible.

P1010940The Roberts family donated $15 million to the facility.

Penn says several adult cancer patients are already lined up to begin treatments in the new year. Afterwards, the proton therapy center will begin taking pediatric patients.

One Comment

  • That is very impressive technology, but the price tag means that it will be very hard to duplicate elsewhere for providing widespread relief. I would hope that such a facility would be operated 24×7 just to attempt some reasonable level of utilization.

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