Until now, Northeast Ohio cancer patients had to go to Chicago or Philadelphia for proton radiation treatment. But the $30 million University Hospitals Proton Therapy Center, which opened in July, now offers the treatment right at the University Circle campus. One of only 20 in the country, the center is enrolling patients this fall to treat certain cancers, including breast. Dr. Janice Lyons, director of breast services for radiation oncology at the University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center, is administering a national multicenter trial that compares patients treated with standard X-ray or photon radiation with the new proton therapy and how both affect the amount of radiation exposure to the heart. Here are a few things to know about her research.
Stop Sign: Protons are heavier, larger charged particles than photons. This allows the oncologist to target a certain tumor shape and depth, which limits the radiation damage to surrounding tissue. “Protons deliver radiation over a finite range and then stop and don’t penetrate any farther,” Lyons says.
Heart Matters: For breast cancer, especially on the left side, it’s important to protect the heart from harmful radiation side effects. A recent study by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that women who’ve had radiation treatments for breast cancer have between a .05 and 3.5 percent increase in the chance of a major heart event. The radiation effects on the heart emerge usually between 10 and 15 years after treatment and are increased for those with other heart disease risk factors, like smoking. “People have a higher incidence of myocardial infarction and coronary heart disease down the road if we don’t get the heart out of the field,” Lyons says.
Safe Guard: “The proton will allow us to take what is now considered a safe dose of radiation to even lower dose,” Lyons says. Since the proton therapy limits long-term side effects, the treatment is ideal for younger patients, especially children.