Penn Medicine hosts immersion program for clinicians, physicists, administrators new to proton therapy

Cancer center administrators, clinicians and medical physicists who are considering adding proton therapy to their cancer-fighting armamentarium will want to attend a three-day proton therapy immersion program on November 21–23, at Penn Medicinein Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.The Inaugural Course on Proton Therapy offers an overview of financing and developing a proton therapy center, its technology and daily operations, and the clinical application of protons. Classes will be taught by faculty, practitioners and administrators from the Roberts Proton Therapy Center.

“As an academic center, one of our three missions, including patient care and research, is education,” says Neha Vapiwala, M.D., vice chair of education at the Perelman School of Medicine, and associate professor of radiation oncology at the Abramson Cancer Center and Roberts Proton Therapy Center. “And who better to teach those who are considering a proton center than the academic faculty and staff whose job it is to further our understanding of proton therapy each and every day.”

Many cancer center executives are thinking seriously about adding protons to their clinical programs. Construction costs are no longer regarded as obstacles. That’s because the size of new proton beam systems — and the space required — have decreased significantly in recent years. A single-treatment-room system, for example, can be developed for $25 million to $30 million, a fraction of the $150 million multi-room systems built just a few years ago.

Still, building and operating a proton treatment center is no easy feat. “It’s a highly complex and complicated endeavor,” Dr. Vapiwala says. “There are very specific clinical, technical and operational issues that go into the development and operation of a proton therapy center.”

Attendees of the Inaugural Program will learn directly from administrators, medical physicists and radiation oncologists who have been running the Roberts Proton Therapy Center since it opened in 2010. “This is an opportunity to learn from the successes and mistakes of others who embraced proton therapy years ago,” says Dr. Vapiwala.

The program will include a tour of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, comprised of four gantry treatment rooms and one fixed-beam treatment room. Clinicians at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center were among the first to deploy pencil beam scanning, an advanced proton beam treatment modality that enables intensity modulated proton therapy.

As a new proton center prepares to treat its first patients, clinicians, physicists, therapists, dosimetrists and administrators should rely upon the support and guidance of peers at other proton centers, Dr. Vapiwala adds. OncoLink, an online, in-depth resource for patients and professionals, and a co-sponsor of the three-day course, offers an online education module.

“The Roberts Proton Therapy Center also offers onsite shadowing and observing in our department,” says Dr. Vapiwala, who also is an OncoLink senior editor. “Radiation oncology is such a small specialty and not well understood by many people, both within and outside the healthcare industry. One of the aspects that contributes to its complexity is that radiation oncology comprises a varied team — physicists, dosimetrists, nurses and physicians. There are thus multiple radiation oncology professionals who can spend quality time at the course, interact with their colleagues, and walk away with a far richer understanding of proton therapy.”

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