Proton therapy: A new weapon against cancer in North Texas

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on May 26, 2014 at 5:26 PM

IRVING — Just off Highway 114 and Royal Lane in Las Colinas, the Texas Center for Proton Therapy looks like an ordinary office building under construction.

On the inside, however, it is a complicated concrete cavern designed to cure cancer.

“It’s complex,” explained project manager Sean Ashcroft.

Proton therapy is a form of radiation treatment that delivers precisely-targeted radiation to tumors without damaging the surrounding healthy tissue. The therapy can help patients experience fewer side effects, and therefore maintain quality of life before and after treatment.

Dallas-Fort Worth is the largest metropolitan area in the United States without a proton therapy center. Houston and Oklahoma City both have the technology available.

Proton therapy is delivered through a 220-ton magnetic particle accelerator called a cyclotron. The cyclotron destined for the North Texas center is in a massive freighter’s cargo hold right now, being shipped from Belgium.

Delivering the power of proton in precise doses requires some unique construction techniques.

"The treatment machine — called the gantry — will actually fill this entire space, which is three stories tall,” said Gary Barlow, director of the Texas Center for Proton Therapy, “A 220,000-pound piece of equipment."

Barlow said patients will never see the machine that will fill the subterranean space because it will be hidden behind walls. Nor will patients realize that the treatment bed is actually suspended halfway between the floors so the machine can rotate 360 degrees around them, delivering pinpoint proton therapy.

In July, the cyclotron will be placed in a large concrete hole inside the building. The machine will be connected to three treatment rooms by a long beam line half the length of a football field.

"There's about 21 miles of conduit embedded in the concrete in order to serve the proton generating equipment and the magnet stands,” said project manager Sean Ashcroft.

Everything is surrounded by nearly 15,000 cubic yards of shielding concrete — enough to fill five Olympic-size swimming pools.

In some areas, the walls are nearly 13-feet thick to protect people from any potential scattered radiation.

The proton therapy center will open in 2016. By then, all patients will see at the site is hope.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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