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Proton Therapy Equipment

Proton therapy requires a great deal of equipment. This is partly what makes it so expensive. The cost of a three-room proton therapy center has gone down in the past five years from $150 to $200 million to less than $100 million, but that's still a hefty sum. Single room treatment centers cost $25 million or so. Besides the equipment, you must have engineers to keep it all running and to calibrate and test the equipment twenty-four hours a day. It took more than sixty employees where I was treated to operate the center. Many are doctors, physicists, and technicians who are well paid. From my personal point of view, it was well worth every penny. However, insurance companies continue to balk when it comes to paying for proton therapy. I have several articles about insurance and cost on my blog website. (See: www.proton-beam-therapy.com.) On other pages I talk about the technology and my experience. Here we will look at the equipment itself.

My illustrations and description are courtesy of the Texas Center for Proton Therapy in Irving, Texas (near Dallas).Proton therapy has been around since 1990. However, there have been some major improvements in the past five or six years. Principle among them has been the introduction of pencil beam scanning. To see how this is superior to the older double-scattering technology, see the technology page. If you are looking for a proton therapy center, be sure it has the latest updated equipment.

When I was first researching proton therapy centers, I emailed the Texas Center for Proton Therapy on a Friday. Saturday morning I received a large packet of information, sent by overnight mail. They understood how anxious I was for answers, as soon as possible. I was impressed by their rapid response. It turns out I went elsewhere for my treatment (Knoxville, Tennessee), for reasons described below.

I have a website that lists the current proton therapy centers in the United States (See www.proton-therapy-centers.com.) Here is the listing for this center:

24. Texas, Irving (Dallas)
Texas Center for Proton Therapy
1501 West Royal Lane, Irving, TX 75063
Tel: 469.513.5500
Opened: 2015
Two gantries, one fixed beam
IBA Proteus technology
Joining Provision's registry for proton therapy.

I went to Tennessee because Provision, the center there, got me onto a registry to study the results of my prostate cancer treatment. I will be monitored for the rest of my life, having examinations and filling out questionaires every six months. In return, Medicare paid 80% of the cost of my treatment. That's why I went to Tennessee. Now, Texas Center has joined the same registry, administered by Provision. Had that been the case two years ago, I would certainly have gone to Irving rather than Knoxville, since I live in San Antonio.

What follows is taken from the website for the Texas Center for Proton Therapy.

The 63,000-square-foot Irving-Las Colinas facility features an advanced fixed beam treatment room and two isocentric gantry treatment rooms; each gantry room contains a 30-foot tall, 110-ton machine that rotates 360 degrees to enable the most accurate positioning of the proton beams on patient tumors with submillimeter accuracy. The proton beam equipment is anchored by a 220-ton cyclotron that can accelerate the protons to almost the speed of light. (Well, two-thirds the speed of light, actually.)

All three treatment rooms feature pencil-beam scanning. Small proton beams, measuring only millimeters wide, are rapidly scanned across the cancer target to precisely match the shape of the tumor. It allows for adaption to complex shaped or even moving tumors, improves dose conformity, and reduces excess radiation to normal tissues.

On board cone beam computed tomography (cone beam CT) provides clinicians the ability to use 3-D volumetric imaging (vs. 2-D X-ray images), which improves anatomic visualization, patient positioning, and allows more precise treatment of cancerous tumors.

The center also features some of the most advanced PET/CT and 3-Tesla MRI scanning and imaging available, as well as on-site lab services.

Above: Protons stripped from hydrogen atoms are injected into this 220-ton cyclotron and accelerated to two-thirds the speed of light. How fast is that? They can go around the earth five times in one second! The cyclotron was shipped from Belgium, where it was made by IBA, the world's leading maker of proton therapy equipment. Superconducting cyclotrons are being developed which will be far smaller and lighter.

Above: The protons are sent through this beam line, in a vacuum (to avoid contamination). Becasue they are all positively charged, they try to disperse, but powerful magnets, such as those visible in the photo, keep them in an organized beam. Hence the name, proton beam therapy.

Above: This huge three-story-tall 110-ton gantry turns to direct the protons from any angle. Note on the far left, where the gantry meets the wall. Inside is the tunnel shown in the next photo.

This is the inside of the tunnel, as seen by the patient. The nozzle can go 360 degrees around the patient. When it turns, so does the huge gantry behind the wall.

Contact information is shown above.

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Our other websites are also of interest:

www.proton-therapy-centers.com (A list of proton therapy centers in the U.S.)

www.proton-beam-therapy.com (Our proton therapy blog.)