ProCure Proton Therapy Center is finding additional uses for its cancer-fighting technology

Beyond cancer

ProCure Proton Therapy Center has for years offered an alternative to conventional X-ray radiation for often difficult-to-treat cancers. They’re finding patients that can benefit from its use for more benign but still difficult-to-treat conditions, as well.

The Somerset-based company has established a reputation for treating prostate, breast, lung, brain, head and neck and other cancers through the use of charged particles called protons. Proton therapy in cancer care has been increasing in use since the company first got started in 2012.

But, Dr. Brian Chon, medical director for the Somerset-based company, said one of the latest additions to its treatment offerings — and the thing he’s most excited about — has little to do with typical cancer treatment work. It’s the use of its radiation technology for the most common form of arthritis.

“It’s a bit of a departure,” Chon said. “But treatment with low doses (of radiation) for osteoarthritis has been routinely done in Europe for decades, and continues to be used there. Even if it has shown to be effective for patients suffering osteoarthritis, it hasn’t been utilized much in the (U.S.).”

Chon’s explanation for that holding true today is that organizations such as his tend to be most focused at all times on the role of radiation therapy in cancer care.

“But, with the aging of our population and with so many patients afflicted with significant osteoarthritis proving recalcitrant to steroid injections, (patients who are) not candidates for surgery, this has become an important option for a huge swath of patients,” he said.

Osteoarthritis affects more than 32.5 million of the country’s adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The condition is reportedly more common in women than men, and the incidence is highest in those over the age of 50.

Having it in the knees, hands, back, shoulders and hips is very common and is considered part of the aging process, Chon said.

“So, as you could imagine, the sheer number of folks suffering from debilitating osteoarthritis is extremely high,” he said.

Not every patient is going to need more than physical therapy, non-steroidal medications, injections to joints or surgery to manage the condition, he added.

It’s for the most stubborn cases of osteoarthritis — for patients that Chon said are having a hard time dealing with symptoms such as persistent pain — that low-dose radiation can be an option.

“And this low-dose radiation, which is easily done, typically in six sessions, is logarithmically different from (radiation levels in cancer treatment),” he said. “We’re usually delivering between 50 to 80 Gray, (or Gy,) of radiation over many weeks of (cancer) treatment. We’re talking about not even a 10th of the dose here, which is typically 3 Gy.”

The idea behind it is that a small amount of radiation arrests and reduces inflammation, which is the source of the pain for these patients, Chon said. Although results in research have varied throughout the years, studies have shown this treatment method can be upwards of 80% effective in reducing pain and increasing mobility.

Anecdotally, Chon said ProCure Proton Therapy Center saw firsthand the results of this for a family member — and it factored into inspiring the center to do more of it.

“They were suffering from knee pain, getting injections, not deemed to be a candidate for knee replacement, and still suffering from pain and running out of options,” he said. “We said, ‘Why don’t we offer up this option?’ And, like the data shows, there was a complete amelioration of pain. Post-treatment, they were able to extend the leg and knee to levels not possible before — to the point where they were able to do yoga and other activities.”

It’s in that same way that Chon hopes to make a difference in the lives of many more patients in the future, he added.