Transforming cancer treatment
Proton beam therapy facilities in Minnesota, Arizona
In 2011, Mayo Clinic broke ground on a new era in radiation therapy by building facilities to house a proton beam therapy program on its campuses in Arizona and Minnesota.
Rochester Proton Beam Therapy Program, Richard O. Jacobson Building (right)
The Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program builds upon Mayo Clinic's leadership position as the only national cancer center with a multisite presence. Proton beam therapy will be used to treat cancers located deep within the body and close to critical organs and body structures.
Cure rates for children
Mayo believes that proton beam therapy treatments will increase cure rates and reduce long-term side effects, especially in children.
The program differs from most other proton therapy programs in the United States in that it will exclusively feature intensity-modulated proton therapy using pencil beam scanning, an advance over current radiation and proton therapy methods. With this significant five-year project, Mayo will be the first to operate pencil beam scanning facilities in the Midwest and Southwest.
$100 million gift supports program
The Rochester, Minn., proton beam facility is expected to open in the summer of 2015, and the Phoenix, Ariz., facility is expected to open in the spring of 2016. Both groundbreaking ceremonies celebrated the expansion of Mayo's capabilities in radiation therapy thanks to a generous 2010 gift from long-time Mayo Clinic patient and philanthropist Richard O. Jacobson.
In 2010, Jacobson donated $100 million — the largest lifetime gift from an individual donor — for the development of Mayo Clinic's Proton Beam Therapy Program. "My dream has always been to establish a major new facility for Mayo Clinic," says Jacobson. "I feel fortunate to help with this new endeavor, which will provide innovative treatment for patients with cancer."
The Rochester facility will be named the Richard O. Jacobson Building in Jacobson's honor.
A new, more-targeted cancer treatment option
Proton beam therapy is a more targeted and precise way of administering radiation to patients battling cancer. It allows for delivery of higher doses of radiation directly to malignant and benign tumors.
"You use high-energy protons, accelerating them to near the speed of light, aiming them at tumors and delivering the energy from the protons into the tumors, killing the tumors," says Steven E. Schild, M.D., chair, Radiation Oncology at Mayo Clinic in Arizona. "The reason we use proton therapy is that protons have a large mass — and that large mass means that when they go into tissue there will be a certain place where they stop because they interact with other mass within the body. Standard X-rays have no mass and travel all the way through the body delivering far more radiation both in front of and behind a tumor within the normal tissues."
Minimal side effects, maximum success
Proton beams can be delivered to a cancerous tumor with submillimeter accuracy. Such precision can prevent serious radiation side effects, such as organ and tissue damage, as well as future development of secondary cancers caused by exposure to X-ray radiation. For some cancer patients, the promise of higher radiation dosages could result in longer survival rates.
Mayo's program will employ the next generation of proton therapy. Intensity-modulated proton beam therapy will use pencil beam scanning to "paint" a tumor with small groups of protons moving back and forth. Protons fill the depth and contour of the tumor, allowing even greater control of radiation doses compared with first-generation proton therapy systems.
Scientific advancements through research
One of Mayo Clinic's priorities is to advance the science of proton therapy. Mayo Clinic researchers at the two proton beam facilities will conduct joint clinical studies as a unified program. Clinical outcomes for all Mayo patients will be entered into one central database to improve care models and services for cancer patients. Mayo also plans to foster collaborative research with other centers worldwide.
Even before breaking ground, Mayo's Proton Beam Therapy Program inspired research by Mayo Graduate School student, John Mullins. His doctoral thesis in medical physics aims to develop a protocol for measuring proton energy loss directly by performing CT imaging using a proton beam.
"Safer, more effective treatment"
Currently, U.S.-based proton beam facilities have the capacity to treat about 11,000 patients per year. When Mayo Clinic's new facilities are fully functional by 2017, they will treat an additional 2,400 patients per year. A conservative estimate is that about 137,000 new cancer patients each year in the United States could benefit from proton therapy.
"This will be a safer, more effective form of treatment for any type of benign or malignant tumor that's close to a very sensitive structure: the eye, the brain, the spinal cord, the heart, the lung, the small intestines, the liver," says Robert Foote, M.D., chair of Mayo Clinic's Department of Radiation Oncology in Rochester.
Making a difference
This project wouldn't be possible without the extremely generous gift from Mr. Jacobson. Proton beam therapy uses expensive, leading-edge technology. Mayo's budget for the buildings, particle accelerators and staff is approximately $370 million. With continuing, broad support from benefactors, the initiative will make a difference in the lives of cancer patients. Among the patients expected to be treated at Mayo Clinic's proton beam therapy centers are:
- Children with all types of cancer
- Young women with breast cancer
- Young men with advanced prostate cancer
- Patients with a rare form of melanoma that grows inside the eye
- Patients with esophageal and lung cancer