Georgetown Hospital opens anti-cancer tumors without material affecting vital organs

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Medstar Georgetown University Hospital recently celebrated the opening of a center which can attack cancer tumors without materially affecting nearby vital organs, the District’s first and only Proton Therapy Center.

Dr. Anatoly Dritschilo, who heads the hospital’s radiation medicine department, said the new system is particularly helpful when a cancerous tumor is near the brain, the heart or some other vital organ. Traditional radiation treatments for cancerous tumors often damage nearby vital organs while the threat of such damage with the Proton Therapy Center is minimal thanks to its including Hyperscan, which largely limits the radiation to the cancerous tumor.

The hospital’s president, Mike Sachtleben said the major advantage of the new treatment is that it has far fewer side effects. The protons, he said, can destroy the cancer cells by delivering radiation to the target with a minimal delivery to adjacent areas. It is particularly useful for children suffering from cancerous cells as it substantially reduces secondary effects.

Dritschilo pointed out that the cost of the process is greater than traditional treatment, about $15,000 vs. about $10,000, but with the potential damage from side effects, the overall cost can be considerably less than with traditional methodology. The center’s machinery is manufactured by Mevion Medical Systems of Middleton, Massachusetts and cost the hospital about $35 million.

Martha Ramos was the hospital’s first ever patient using the service and according to Mevion Medical System’s web site, was the first patient to be treated with the device anywhere in the world.

The Mevion system at Georgetown includes Hyperscan, a pencil beam scanning which allows clinicians to do their work both faster as well as with more precision than in the past. The system is being installed at other American centers as well as some in Europe. Two new ones will be treating patients by the end of the year and two more are in the planning phase, according to Mevion’s web site.

While in many cases, a proton center must be built as a separate stand alone facility, the compact size of the Mevion system at Georgetown “enables it to be integrated to existing radiation oncology departments so it can share existing support services and personnel throughout the hospital rather than having duplication in a stand alone facility,” the Mevion website reported. At Georgetown, the system is integrated directly to the hospital as a part of a renovation to the existing cancer center entrance.

Dritschilo said that before the system could be installed, the hospital had to get a certificate of need from the District government, which “took us a long time to get.”
The University of Maryland has a different system from Georgetown’s at its Baltimore location. It was developed by Advanced Particle Therapy LLC based in San Diego, Calif. and Varian of Palo Alto, Calif.