Proton Beam Offers State-of-the-Art Cancer Treatment at Mayo

Updated: 03/18/2014 7:07 PM
Created: 03/18/2014 7:03 PM
By: Steph Crock

(ABC 6 News) -- We've been following it since the groundbreaking, now the first ever look inside Mayo's nearly $200 million proton beam therapy building. It's the recipient of one of largest donations Mayo Clinic has ever received, the Richard O. Jacobson Building, home to the Mayo Clinic proton beam therapy program, is now complete.

There are only 13 proton beam treatment centers in the US, but this is the only one in the nation with pencil beam radiation. The most targeted form of radiation treatment out there today. "This is a dream come true. Its' like Christmas day for us," said Robert Foote, M.D. Mayo Clinic. Mayo doctors will now be able to treat cancer patients more effectively with fewer side effects. "Conventional radiation has an entrance dose and an exit does that causes side effects and complications," said Dr. Foote.

Proton beam therapy can target the tumor directly, with a minimal entrance dose and no exit dose "So if it’s located next to a very sensitive structure, like the brain, or the eye, or the spinal cords, or the lungs, or the heart, or the kidney, that makes them a good candidate from proton beam therapy too," said Dr. Foote.

This facility is one of the only places in the world with pencil beam radiation. "We can paint this contour or the shape of the tumor exactly," said Michael Herman, Ph.D. Mayo Clinic.

How does it work? “There's one synchrotron that supplies the protons for all four treatment rooms. What we saw behind the gantry, the hardware for each gantry, so there are 4 of those," said Dr. Herman. It’s so massive in size, we had trouble getting it in one shot, but the whole thing rotates in a room behind the patient as they're treated. "We have the capacity to treat about 138 patients a day and that will translate into about 1,200 patients a year," said Dr. Foote.

If the patient fits the mold for this top-notch treatment, paying for it may not be as frightening as it sounds. "Doing a little bit more expensive upfront, could cut the total health care costs down by more than 50 percent, probably down to just a third by using protons," said Dr. Foote.

Though the proton beam is complete, they aren’t going to open it up for patients until June of 2015. That's because it takes an entire year for them to program the beams to make protons for each type of energy they want.