In the United States there are more than 2,500 imaging facilities treating 900,000 cancer patients with therapeutic x-rays. And while this treatment is common, it isn’t the only one out there. Proton therapy has the potential to make cancer treatment more effective, safer, and, in the long run, more cost effective. 

But proton therapy is used at just seven locations in the United States. ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City plans to increase this number and the number of patients that receive this targeted radiation therapy. The center, which opened in 2009, treats a wide range of cancers, including of the head and neck and spine, across the patient demographic gamut from children to adults to the elderly. The center is on track to treat about 1,500 patients this year, a far cry from the numbers that receive x-ray treatment, but ProCure is in the process of establishing sites across the nation, which means that number should see a marked increase in the coming years. ProCure not only is advancing proton therapy, but is doing so with an innovative delivery system—the inclined beam.

In an interview with Tech Edge, Medical Director Sameer Keole, M.D., noted that the center’s use of inclined beam technology—a technique developed at ProCure Treatment Centers—makes it more efficient and cost-effective to treat patients. Typically clinicians have two options when treating patients—a single 90º detector or a gantry system. The single detector limits the number of patients that can be helped, particularly those with complex cases, and the gantry system—while able to be positioned at almost any angle—is prohibitively expensive and takes up a large amount of space, according to Keole.

The inclined beam technology solves both of these problems. A treatment room is equipped with two detectors, one set at 90º and one at 30º, according to Keole. These two angles allow oncologists to treat about 75% of all patients, about double a single detector room allows, and at a cost that is significantly less and with a much smaller footprint than the gantry system.

According to Keole, an oncologist with Radiation Medical Associates, proton therapy has long been known to be an effective alternative to x-ray therapy. It has several advantages over the more common technique. It can give a more targeted dose, protecting the healthy tissue around the tumor. Doses tend to be lower, according to Keole, who says that the center has been able to reduce doses from 50% to 99%.

There is really only one thing standing in the way of wide scale adoption he says: money. “If the costs weren’t an issue, we’d have no debate [about using this therapy],” he said, adding that, in his opinion, proton therapy saves money in the long-run.