Check out the latest news about proton therapy: this week, find out how this state-of-the-art treatment modality is improving quality of life during and after cancer treatment.
STUDENT WITH INOPERABLE CANCER GETS ALL-CLEAR
Sam Williams, a 23-year-old student from the UK who was diagnosed with an inoperable tumor, has been given the all-clear after just 7 weeks of proton therapy.
Back in 2015, Sam was given the devastating news she had stage 3 nasopharyngeal cancer after it had been missed 3 times by GPs who said the lump on the right side of her neck would go down if left. Tests finally detected cancerous cells in the swollen lymph node in Sam’s neck, which meant the actual tumor could have been anywhere. An MRI scan showed a rare type of head & neck cancer in the upper part of her throat, behind her nose. Because of its position, it could not be operated on, and Sam needed chemotherapy and radiation therapy. But as specialists listed the side effects of radiotherapy, Sam felt horrified and went away to research the alternatives. That’s how she found proton therapy and started a Crowdfunding campaign with her family to raise the £57,000 for treatment at the Proton Therapy Center in Prague, Czech Republic. “At the start of August, I left the UK having had 2 weeks of chemotherapy and got on a plane to Prague, knowing I had proton beam and more chemotherapy in front of me,” she said. “I got mouth sores and a scratchy throat and I felt a bit rubbish, but other than that the side effects were minimal.” Her tumor disappeared completely after 7 and half weeks of treatment. Today, she still faces 4 years before she is fully discharged and has regular scans, but says she is living life to the full, embarking on a once-in-a-lifetime 3-month trip around Asia with her best friend. She is also calling for proton therapy to be made more widely available for UK patients.
RUNNING DURING PROTON THERAPY
It was into a 32-mile run in the Western North Carolina mountains that 69-year-old Doug Blackford realized he had just completed his 32nd proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer.
A quick look at the list of side effects for radiation therapy (including incontinence, abdominal cramping, diarrhea and fatigue) quickly reveals why an extreme run more than three-quarters into a cancer treatment regimen is not to be recommended. Doug himself was surprised he felt well enough to complete what has become an annual tradition with a few friends and his son. Blackford, 69, launched his career as an ultra-marathoner in his 50s, initially to support his teenage son who had started cross-country training. “I really didn’t expect to be doing this much after this many treatments,” he said. “I kind of expected it was going to be a lot harder, but it hasn’t been.” Many patients choose proton therapy to avoid the long-term side effects of surgery, brachytherapy or conventional radiation, and many patients report feeling good during treatment as well, prompting the term “radiation vacation”. During his treatment, Doug maintained his regular running schedule while staying in Knoxville for treatment, and the fact that he ran 32 miles following the same number of treatments was simply coincidence. The thought occurred to him during the run. He shared the observation with his friends. And he just kept running.
AWARENESS FOR HPV CANCER PREVENTION
Peg Herlocher, a Michigan resident who was diagnosed with HPV-related metastatic squamous carcinoma last Christmas, is aiming to advocate for HPV cancer prevention.
Peg was diagnosed after she visited a physician for exhaustion and weight loss. Her doctor quickly discovered a lump on her neck, and a biopsy revealed that her cancer was metastatic, meaning its primary site was elsewhere in her body. After doing extensive research on treatment facilities, Peg’s kept coming across MD Anderson in Houston, Texas, which offers proton therapy with concurrent chemotherapy. “I just started my third week of chemotherapy using a biologic therapy which helps preserve my auditory nerve,” she said. “MD Anderson is the top facility in the country for helping combat this type of cancer and they are able to specifically develop a program for each patient based upon their needs. For me, preserving my hearing was huge.” Peg’s prognosis is good as her cancer is related to HPV (human papillomavirus infection). It’s her hope while going through her own journey to bring advocacy and awareness of this all too prevalent cancer. “The numbers of HPV-related cancer is on the rise and will continue unless we have our children vaccinated,” she said. “These cancers are completely preventable. Unfortunately, if our children are not vaccinated by an early age, it will be too late as most will be exposed to the virus by the early 20s. We should be doing more to protect them.” Peg said she was fortunate enough to qualify for proton therapy: “my chances are much better of preserving swallowing, taste, speech and so forth.” Her treatment is scheduled to end in March or early April.