Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is improving cancer care and offering a better quality of life during and after treatment.
Scott fighting cancer with proton therapy
Steve Scott, 58, former Olympian and American record holder in the mile, thought he was done when his doctors diagnosed him with prostate cancer. Then he found out about proton therapy.
Twenty years ago, Steve had already beaten testicular cancer and survived a pulmonary embolism. So he was in great shock when he learned about his prostate cancer, as he had no symptom.
He was also depressed about his options: as the cancerous tumor was resting on a nerve bundle, surgery would have been terribly invasive, and traditional radiation treatment would have attacked both good and bad cells. Then on a family trip to Wisconsin, proton therapy was suggested.
After a lot of soul searching, Steve made the call to the Scripps Proton Therapy Center.
“Steve was a perfect candidate for treatment because he has a long life expectancy”, said his doctor at Scripps. “And, yes, it absolutely helps that Steve is an athlete”.
Steve is now six weeks into an eight-week program. He has treatment at 2:30 p.m. five days a week. “The best thing is that I have no fatigue, no hair loss, no diarrhea. Really, I don’t feel like I have cancer. That’s why I want to get the word out. I want men to realize they need to get treated, need to see a doctor on a regular basis.”
Decreased costs and improved care with PT
A recent research published in Oncology Payers discusses the quality of life benefits and cost-savings of intensity modulated proton therapy (IMPT or proton therapy) with traditional x-ray therapy for advanced stage head and neck cancer.
The main author of the paper, Dr. Steven Frank, highlights two oropharyngeal cancer patients, one of whom received proton therapy and the other x-ray treatments. Both patients received chemotherapy. The study showed that although the upfront costs of proton therapy were three times that of standard x-ray treatments, the proton therapy patient was spared the necessity of a feeding tube, nutritional and supportive care and weight loss that accompanied the x-ray treatments. By the end of the treatment period, the total care costs for the proton therapy patient were 20% lower than the x-ray treatment plan.
To evaluate the costs, Dr. Frank has been employing a costing tool that places the emphasis on the value of medical care, both monetary and in terms of quality of life. Dr. Frank plans to enroll 360 patients over the next five years as well as to open the study to other cancer centers. He notes that the results will be especially valuable as health insurance companies look to further bundled insurance payments.
Beating breast cancer twice
Anastasia Custis Berkheimer, 72, was diagnosed with cancer twice since 2011. Two tumors were found in both her breasts after an interval of only 2 years.
She became suspicious that something was wrong in October 2011. « I could feel a lump in my right breast that caused me some pain. In November, I had a lumpectomy and was told it was definitely cancer », she said.
Her doctors wanted to do a full mastectomy followed by chemotherapy, but she knew it would leave her both emotionally and physically weak, and couldn’t handle it. So she searched online for other options and found a clinic in Los Angeles that offered alternate therapy for cancer. In early 2012, she underwent 16 out of her 20 scheduled radiation sessions because she didn’t react well to the treatment. However, further testing put her in the clear and she thought she was done with it.
But last fall, a tumor was found in her other breast. She underwent surgery but refused chemotherapy and decided to wait for the opening of a new proton therapy center in San Diego. She chose PT because it was safer than traditional X-rays for her heart condition, as this type of treatment is able to precisely aim at cancer cells while protecting surrounding tissues, that is her heart and lung, located just under the breast.
She was the first patient treated for breast cancer at the center. And there were no side effects : « I didn’t feel bad. I didn’t get the same burns and rashes like I did the first time around ». She had a mammogram last month and everything looks fine.