UW Health plans to offer proton therapy, a form of radiation treatment that more precisely targets tumors for patients with certain cancers, and will be the first location in the state of Wisconsin to provide the treatment.
The University of Wisconsin–Madison affiliated health system announced Tuesday it struck a partnership with medical device company Leo Cancer Care to be the first medical center in the world to use the company’s new radiation device, which delivers proton therapy using groundbreaking upright treatment technology.
Proton treatment allows for the highest level of precision, which is particularly important for children and for adults with cancers near vital organs.
“Proton therapy is the most exquisitely accurate type of radiation delivery, like an artist painting with a fine brush to be able to just target the tumor and really limit the dose to the normal tissue,” Paul Harari, M.D., chair of the Department of Human Oncology at UW School of Medicine and Public Health and a radiation oncologist at UW Health, told Fierce Healthcare.
“We have very state-of-the-art radiation treatment in existence here today. But there are so many levels of sophistication, and proton therapy sits at one end of that spectrum for patients that have tumors right up against a critical structure, touching the eye, touching the brain stem or spinal cord, touching the heart where we want to create a high gradient from the radiation to go to almost no dose to the normal structure nearby, and that’s what proton can bring,” Harari said.
There are several benefits to having patients sit upright as it’s better for a patient’s breathing and heart function but it’s also a more comfortable and natural position for the body, Harari said.
Leo Cancer Care’s device offers a more “human way” to deliver radiation therapy, according to Stephen Towe, CEO of Leo Cancer Care.
“The company was founded to bring better medicine and to try to the reduce, size, cost and complexity of current radiation therapy equipment,” he said.
UW Health expects to start treating patients with the device in 2024, when construction on its new $438 million cancer treatment center is scheduled to be complete.
Proton therapy is more expensive than conventional radiation therapy. The treatment benefits most the estimated 20% of patients with tumors near sensitive tissue, for which proton therapy is typically approved by insurers. With UW Health treating about 180 cancer patients a day with radiation treatment, about 30 of those patients on any given day could benefit from proton therapy, Harari said.
Proton therapy is currently provided at 36 centers throughout the U.S., with the closest sites for Wisconsin residents being Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Northwestern University near Chicago.
Monday, Froedtert Health together with the Medical College of Wisconsin near Milwaukee also announced plans for proton therapy, with both of the state’s competing academic health centers saying they will start the service in 2024, The Chippewa Herald reported.
Proton therapy centers are a pricey investment for health systems, averaging around $75 million. Historically, these devices required big construction projects as conventional proton beam therapy requires rotating hundreds of tons of steel, concrete and equipment around the patient to reach the necessary angle for treatment and deliver the radiation beams.
This approach can be both cost- and space-prohibitive for many health systems, Towe said.