Proton therapy has a few key differences from traditional radiation. Traditional therapy uses x-rays, which are a form of photon radiation. The rays go into the body from one side and come out the other, touching more than just the cancer cells and potentially damaging healthy tissue along the way. The proton beam is positively charged and enters the body at a low dose of radiation. When it hits the cancer it’s targeting, the dosage increases. The beam then stops, preventing the radiation from moving through healthy tissue and exiting the other side of the body. This allows healthy tissue to be spared, while maximizing the chances of attacking cancer cells.
Penn Medicine is a global leader in proton therapy. Penn radiation oncologists have treated almost 4,500 patients since the Roberts Proton Therapy Center first opened in 2010, and have trained more than 500 medical professionals from across the world, many of whom attend an annual three-day course hosted at Penn. That course helps train doctors and health care leaders to learn about best practices in the use of this emerging technology as they establish new proton centers around the world. Clinical trials in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center have mapped new treatments for pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and many other diseases which are otherwise difficult to treat with radiation. Now that global expertise will bring state-of-the-science proton therapy to the South Jersey community.
“Currently, patients who may benefit from proton therapy – especially for hard-to-treat cancers – can only receive this therapy at a handful of specialized centers across the country,” said James M. Metz, MD, chair of Radiation Oncology at Penn. “This project represents the next phase of proton therapy, in which these treatment facilities will spread into the community to make it easier for patients to get access, and Penn is proud to once again lead the way.”
Virtua is proud to provide the first location in South Jersey to offer this life-changing therapy to cancer patients, alongside the full range of conventional radiation treatments that are part of its cancer programs.
“This highly sophisticated cancer treatment will be available to South Jersey residents as a result of the strong partnership between Virtua and Penn Medicine,” said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, Virtua President and CEO. “The outstanding value for our patients is that they will receive advanced cancer care close to home and family, with radiation treatment plans developed by Penn’s radiation oncologists.”
From evaluation to treatment, patients will be able to get everything they need at the new facility, including access to clinical trials involving proton therapy. The aspect of care that will remain centered at Penn Medicine is the treatment planning phase, which will be done virtually, providing patients with access to Penn’s expertise without having to come into Philadelphia for their appointments.
“We have almost a decade of experience in this field that we will continue to lean on, and keeping the treatment planning centralized will ensure that all of that expertise moves seamlessly into the community,” Metz said. “For patients, it will be the same experience they would get on Penn’s campus.”
The Penn Medicine/Virtua strategic alliance creates easier access to advanced specialty care by growing programs in South Jersey supported by both organizations. With an understanding that patients want to be close to home and family when dealing with serious illnesses, this partnership provides the best plan of care that incorporates facilities in both health systems. Virtua continues to explore collaboration opportunities with Penn Medicine to strengthen and support Virtua’s delivery of specialty care. The alliance reduces duplication of resources, increases efficiencies, and enhances convenience for patients and families. It fosters relationships among the medical professionals of both organizations, ensuring delivery of care in the appropriate setting, eliminating gaps in care and improving access to specialty services.
Penn and Virtua leaders have referred to the new proton facility as Project Olympus, a reference to the fact that as they face the mountainous challenges of bringing proton therapy into the community for the first time, they make the climb together.