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Proton therapy center breaks gound

20130518 proton therapy

According to healthcare provider Texas Oncology, more than 100,000 Texans will be diagnosed with cancer during 2013. Although there are many treatment options available to them including radiation therapy, chemotherapy and proton therapy, residents of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Metroplex do not have access to all the treatment options and must travel hundreds of miles to either Austin or Houston to receive proton therapy. In fact, Dallas is the largest metropolitan area in the United States that does not have a facility dedicated to this form of treatment.

This is set to change. Last year, Texas Oncology announced it would build a state-of-the-art Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Irving at Hwy 161 and Royal Lane. On May 15, the company broke ground alongside guests, cancer survivors and representatives from the City of Irving.

At the new facility, which is scheduled to accept its first patient in early 2016, a staff of 50 nurses, radiation therapists and physicists will be equipped to deliver cutting edge treatment to over 100 patients a day.

“The physical characteristic of proton therapy allows it to be highly targeted and highly conformal to the cancer, and that allows us to spare normal and healthy tissue from radiation,” said, Gary Barlow, the Center’s director. “So in some cases, we can actually give higher doses of proton therapy because you’re not damaging normal tissues.

“When you are able to deliver higher doses of radiation, you sometimes see a higher cure rate and a lower recurrence rate, in other words the cancer is destroyed completely and does not have the opportunity to recur.”

Although Barlow stressed that proton therapy is the driving force behind the facility, he also emphasized that it is not the cornerstone of the center’s treatment.

“We’ll have a reputation of technology. We’ll have a reputation of research and clinical studies and clinical trials,” he said. “But when people talk about the Texas Center for Proton Therapy, they’ll talk about how they were treated when they got here.

“The approach that we’re going to take is a community based approach to cancer treatment,” Barlow said. “Staying close to home, they’ll be able to get the support from their families, friends.

“If they want to continue work, they’ll be able to do that. [It will] allow the patient to maintain their quality of life both during treatment and after treatment.”

The center’s commitment to patient care extends from the ideology of its administrators to its architecture.

“We’ve actually developed a 1,100 sq. ft. community room where [we will have] weekly and daily seminars and educational programs on cancer research and wellness,” Barlow said. “[We] will have seminars and lectures on exercise and nutrition and yoga – all the things that will treat the whole person and not just their cancer.”

Three cancer survivors were guests at the ceremony, included 12 year old Connor Escobedo who was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a bone cancer prevalent in children, when he was 11. Although he underwent chemo and radiation therapy in Dallas, Connor and his family had to go to Houston for six and a half weeks for his proton therapy.

His mother, Yvonne, said the move disrupted all their lives.

“Friends, family, your regular routine is so interrupted [by] having the pick up and move to Houston for treatment,” she said. “Basically your whole lifestyle is changed.”

During his address, President and Chairman of the Board for Texas Oncology, Dr. Steven Paulson reiterated the Center’s commitment to its patients’ quality of life, unveiling the Hope Wall, a white wall with ‘HOPE’ inscribed in large blue letters. Around and inside the larger letters, were small notes of encourage written in styles ranging from calligraphy to stencils to graffiti. All present were invited to add their own words of encouragement to the Wall later that day at the luncheon.

“Representing the essential role that community support plays in fighting cancer,” Paulson said, “[the Hope Wall is] a symbol of hope, inspiration and support, one that represents real words of encouragement from our own community, of those whose lives are affected by fighting cancer.”

Once again, Barlow exhorted the crowd, reminding them about the immediate need for next generation cancer therapy.

“The population is aging, the population is increasing. Make no mistake about it, there is a need for this technology,” he said.