Proton therapy’s pros: ProCure medical director says cancer-fighting technology has become more popular … but not yet reached full potential

ProCure Proton Therapy Center can’t pretend anymore that the health technology it’s been utilizing for 11 years is a well-kept secret.

Dr. Brian Chon, the Somerset-based company’s medical director, said that, in the five years since ROI-NJ profiled the organization’s use of charged particles called protons to combat cancer as an alternative to the conventional X-ray radiation approach, this technology has become much more mainstream.

“What you’re now looking at is essentially all top cancer centers, such as (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center) … have access to proton therapy,” he said. “While not as plentiful as conventional X-ray therapy, it’s really becoming an important tool in the toolbox in the management of cancer.”

The larger medical community has discovered the potential of proton therapy, a treatment that was, as recently as five years ago, offered at only about two dozen other centers besides ProCure Proton Therapy Center in the U.S.

At the same time, those who have been familiar with proton therapy for years feel there might be some yet-undiscovered potential to this treatment option still to learn.

Chon said one of the more intriguing indications for proton therapy is what researchers are discovering about its apparent efficacy in treating a serious complication of cancer known as leptomeningeal metastasis.

“Even as metastatic cancer patients are surviving longer and longer with today’s therapies, some metastatic cancer patients have cancer spread to the brain and spine through what’s called the cerebrospinal fluid,” he said. “The cancer ends up in these sanctuary sites where chemotherapy doesn’t penetrate.”

As that cancer takes hold in the brain and spinal cord, patients can reportedly experience seizures and other devastating effects. Most patients die within months, according to medical articles.

Along with professionals at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Somerset’s proton therapy experts have been running a trial that hopes to demonstrate benefits in their approach to fighting this cancer outcome.

“And the study was overwhelmingly positive,” Chon said. “People who received proton therapy showed improved survival over conventional therapy. And it extended life while also improving the quality of life, by improving the associated neurological symptoms (of the disease). So, we’re excited about the potential of offering this to patients.”

There’s also research being done into what’s called FLASH radiotherapy, which would deliver high pulses of proton radiation treatment to tumors.

“The hypothesis there is that it’s done so quickly that, while the effects of treatment on the tumor are maximized, the high pulses could minimize normal radiation side effects,” Chon said. “It’s a hot topic in our area.”

ProCure Proton Therapy Center’s team is in active talks with other health care entities in the region to further expand its clinical research. Innovation in the area of proton therapy is flourishing, Chon said.

“The government has really gotten behind this, and provided millions (of dollars) in assistance for clinical trials,” he added. “In the past five years, the (National Cancer Institute) in particular has been a big proponent for proton therapy.”

One of the center’s more recent focal points has been treating left-sided breast cancer. Proton therapy is believed to reduce the risks of cardiac toxicity for that condition when compared to traditional X-ray radiation. A clinical trial that could provide the objective data for that is nearing completion, Chon said.

There’s always more research to do and always more patients to treat for the center, which just eclipsed 7,000 patients treated.

“That’s a really nice landmark for us,” Chon said. “And we’ve got a real cadre of survivorship there.”