Pencil beam protons zap cancer

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With pencil beam proton therapy, doctors can pinpoint tumors more accurately than ever before, while greatly reducing the number of treatments and the risk of damaging healthy cells. (KFSN)

Radiation treatment for cancer has become as precise as the tip of a pencil. With pencil beam proton therapy, doctors can pinpoint tumors more accurately than ever before, while greatly reducing the number of treatments and the risk of damaging healthy cells.

Donald Dolan is just a few weeks out from having pencil beam proton therapy for prostate cancer.

Dolan told Ivanhoe, "I feel fine. I just don't have quite the energy I had prior to all of this taking place."

He was the first prostate cancer patient to get the treatment at Arizona's Mayo Clinic. The proton therapy machine uses magnets to accelerate hydrogen protons in something called the syncotron, and then sends them through a nozzle into a treatment room. Whether it's prostate or another type of cancer, traditional radiation goes in one side of the body and out the other, potentially damaging healthy organs and tissue. The proton beam can stop at the tumor. Center director Sameer Keole, M.D., said think of protons as a car.

"You want to go 60 miles, and the car got 20 miles a gallon. You just put in 3 gallons of gas, it would go 60 miles and it would stop. That's exactly what protons do," described Dr. Keole.

The pencil beam is even thinner and even more accurate.

Dr. Keole said, "We actually can scan left to right and up and down with inline and cross line magnets. So this is very, very elegant."

This precision means Dr. Keole safely used higher doses of radiation for Dolan, cutting treatment time from 44 days to 28. Dolan got back to relaxing with his wife, Sharon, much sooner.

Dr. Keole said there are only 23 proton therapy centers in the U.S., and with a price tag of $80 million a machine, you can understand why. He does believe that all new centers built will have the capability for pencil beam therapy.
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