Atlantic Health hopes proton therapy figures big in future of cancer care

Jessica Perry//August 30, 2012

Atlantic Health hopes proton therapy figures big in future of cancer care

Jessica Perry//August 30, 2012

The hospital system is investing in next-generation therapy that aims to have more effective patient outcomes. Currently, only 10 such centers exist in the United States.

There are currently 10 proton therapy facilities in the United States, the most recent being ProCure Proton Therapy Center, in the Somerset section of Franklin, which opened in March through a joint venture of ProCure Treatment Centers Inc., CentraState Healthcare System and Princeton Radiation Oncology.

Construction of the Atlantic Health facility should take about two years to complete, once a study is determined with ProTom International and other potential partners, according to Janina Hecht, public relations officer at Atlantic’s Overlook and Morristown medical centers.

Hecht said she could not disclose the names of the other potential partners, or the specific location of the facility, but the new building will be built for Atlantic Health’s North Jersey market, and should be between 40,000 and 50,000 square feet, she said.

Proton therapy is targeted radiation that is less invasive and more precise than X-rays. It can deliver a direct dose of radiation to a tumor, minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and reducing side effects, according to ProTom.

ProCure’s Somerset facility is 60,000 square feet and took less than two years to complete. It anticipates treating 1,500 patients a year, created 500 permanent and temporary jobs, and cost $160 million to build.

Hecht said the Atlantic Health construction project would also create many jobs for New Jersey, and once the facility is up and running, “we would be looking at about two dozen additional jobs, not including physicians,” she said.

Atlantic Health also is looking into lower-cost proton therapy machines, according to Dr. Louis Schwartz, chair of radiation oncology at Overlook. And in his report, “Next Generation Proton: The New Frontier for Cancer Treatment,” Dr. James R. Wong, chairman of the radiation oncology department at Morristown Medical Center, wrote that most particle beam centers cost more than $200 million to build, and the size requirement for the entire center of a ProTom Unit is 7,000 to 8,000 square feet. “This new technology by the ProTom group results in a new proton center that can be built at about one-third of the conventional proton price tag,” he wrote.

Hadley Ford, CEO of ProCure Treatment Centers, said the need for proton therapy in New Jersey, and across the country, is vast. “Multiple centers in the same vicinity is a blessing for patients across the region. We are very pleased (Atlantic Health) is interested in offering their patients the best possible radiation oncology treatment. The unfortunate truth is that even with our center and their center, we will fall well short of meeting the need,” he said.

According to The National Association for Proton Therapy, there are seven new centers in development throughout the United States.