UFPTI’s first patient — one year later

The University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute (UFPTI) marked the one year anniversary of its first patient treated: for Ben Smith, proton therapy was the ideal option.

When he learned he had prostate cancer in April 2005, Ben Smith, a 55 year old aerospace engineer from Florida, analyzed his options and looked for the best treatment. Although his own dad had died from the effects of prostate cancer and his urologist strongly advised him surgery, Smith refused to risk the possible side effects (impotence and incontinence) and sought for a more palatable solution: proton therapy. “The proton beams are so precise; if that’s where you want the radiation to go, that’s where it goes”, he says. “I’m an engineer, so I research everything. After doing all the research, I thought, ‘This is it. This is what I have to have.’”

At that time, UFPTI was not accepting patients yet. But Smith insisted he wanted to be their first: “I told them somebody’s got to do it, and it might as well be me”, he recalls. During pre-treatment testing, a biopsy revealed his cancer had spread, but was still contained in the prostate. Smith began his therapy on August 14, 2006, receiving in eight weeks a total 39 proton therapy treatments. Before each treatment, a rectal balloon was inserted to help isolate the prostate for precise beam focus. In addition, gold markers were placed inside Smith’s prostate to allow each proton beam to precisely reach the diseased cells. During his treatment, Smith, married with two children, enjoyed visits from his family and friends, read, attended some college football games and kept in shape at the local YMCA. Three weeks after his last therapy session, he returned to work.

One year later, Smith has regular blood analyses done and returns to UFPTI for follow-up visits. “Ben is doing great,” says his doctor. “His prostate has shrunk considerably. He has no side effects from his treatments. There is no evidence of disease.” Smith adds that he has moved on from his cancer experience. “When you get [cancer], your vision shrinks and you don’t look too far forward,” he says. “Something like this is very traumatic. But when you are done with it, your vistas slowly increase again, and life is bright and cheerful.” Smith’s tenacity and spirit made a strong impression on his doctor. “Ben is not only a patient — he’s a friend,” he says. “I’m very happy that he’s doing so well. It was a great experience for me, and I’m glad everything worked out so well for him.”

Since that time in 2006, UFPTI has continued to serve scores of patients and to exceed expectations with about 200 patients treated (including 12 pediatric patients), 8.728 fractions (treatments) delivered, and a 98.7% ratio of patients treated to patients scheduled. UFPTI is currently delivering about 60 fractions per day in three treatment rooms. Protocols are open for prostate, sarcoma, brain, head and neck cancers, and for pediatric cancers. In early 2008, protocols will be open for treating bladder, pancreas, colon, liver, breast, and lung cancers. “These new protocols and the anticipated opening of our fourth treatment room later in 2008 will offer new possibilities for many more cancer patients,” says Stuart Klein, Executive Director of UFPTI.