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While cure rates are a big factor when considering cancer treatment options, another big part of the conversation today is quality of life during and after treatment. With proton therapy, patients can expect excellent cure rates and little to no impact on their quality of life. For prostate cancer patients our five-year outcomes meet or exceed other treatment options for cure rates and quality of life. For breast cancer, lung cancer and lymphoma patients, early evidence suggests a reduced risk of damage to surrounding healthy tissue. While proton therapy is not the “magic bullet” cure for every cancer, it is certainly making it possible for many patients to beat cancer and to live life to the fullest.
Stuart L. Klein
Dr. Curtis Bryant, assistant professor, UF department of radiation oncology, was interviewed this month on First Coast Living, a midday talk show on WTLV Channel 12, Jacksonville’s NBC affiliate. During the wide-ranging discussion, he talked about the proton therapy benefit of preserving cancer patients’ quality of life during and after treatment. He also described the results of the large-scale prostate cancer study published last May and innovations in treatment such as SpaceOAR and shorter treatment regimens.
By Theresa Edwards Makrush
Beth Klein had worked for decades at GE Health Care and became a GE Officer, in the area of medical imaging devices, including nuclear medicine and positron emission tomography, or PET, where machines use radioactive tracers to detect disease. “I became passionate about oncology and wanted to get closer to making a difference in people’s lives, which eventually led me to IBA and proton therapy,” said Klein.
Today she is president of IBA Proton Therapy, Inc., based in Reston, Va., with responsibility for IBA’s North American operations, and has been with the company for nine years. “I am blessed to be in a hi-tech, hi-touch business where we are working together with our customers and their patients to grow the market so that we can help even more cancer patients have a better quality of life during and post treatment,” said Klein.
IBA has installed proton therapy systems in more than half of all operating facilities worldwide. More than 50,000 patients have been treated on IBA systems; that’s more than all competitive systems combined. The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute was the first clinical system installed in the United States by IBA, after the prototype at Massachusetts General Hospital. The close working relationship that IBA has with the Institute has propelled the field of proton therapy forward. IBA engineers are on-site 24 hours, every day of the week, to ensure that the system is available and operating at maximum performance for patient treatment.
Last year, when Klein’s symptoms of hearing loss and acute tinnitus were linked to an acoustic neuroma, a rare benign tumor of the nerve sheath that lies along the acoustic nerve, she knew proton therapy could be the best possible treatment. In consultation with her doctors, she ruled out surgery, conventional radiation, or doing nothing because of the potential for unpleasant or serious side effects, both short and long term. Klein also wanted to make sure she could fully enjoy her future retirement years and not worry about the risk of secondary cancers down the road.
The following is excerpted from an email interview in which Klein describes more about her unique perspective as a proton therapy “insider” and now as a proton therapy patient.
Q&A with Beth Klein, president, IBA Proton Therapy North America
Q: What has your experience of proton therapy been like?
A: I have loved my time here. The entire team has been nothing short of extraordinary. Everyone on the UFHPTI team cares about you as the patient, from the parking lot attendant and receptionists to the executive team operating the center. The physician, therapist and nursing teams are ROCK STARS! They are smart, caring and fun to be with. It sounds hard to believe but I actually looked forward to my daily treatment because of them! I watched them with other patients, especially the children being treated, and was amazed at how skilled they are at what they do. As an aside, the Jacksonville area has been a pleasant surprise. You can't beat the weather and there is a lot of diversity in things to do.
Q: How is treatment impacting your everyday activities?
A: One of my main reasons for choosing proton therapy is that the side effects during treatment are minimal compared to other treatments. I continued to work full time while being treated. I also was able to exercise every day and played tennis three times a week.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who has just been diagnosed with cancer or to someone who is considering having proton therapy?
A: As a patient, it is important to do extensive research on your options before you decide what course is right for you. Don’t assume that your physician is aware of all of the options -- many times they refer you to what they know or have access to versus what they should know or perhaps don’t have access to. Proton therapy is not recommended for every cancer but studies indicate that 20-30% of patients who need radiation therapy could benefit from proton therapy. It’s important to ask the question, and if you are not comfortable with the answer, I would call the intake center at UFHPTI and ask them. They will connect you with a physician who has the experience and access to both conventional radiation therapy and proton therapy — so they are not biased. They will help you make an objective decision weighing the benefits and downsides to different approaches.
Q: What do you wish you had known before your treatment?
A: I wish that I would have known how easy it was going to be to go through treatment — it would have lowered my anxiety in the weeks before treatment. Even though I knew about the technology, I didn't have an appreciation for patient anxiety until I was a patient. Fortunately, the UFHPTI team was there to ease me through it. My anxiety was gone after the first treatment.
Q: Are there things you have learned as a patient that you’ll use in your work? Any suggestions for improvement you will give to others at your company?
A: Absolutely. As someone who works for IBA, the company that develops this technology, I wanted to use my treatment as an opportunity to learn how proton therapy centers operate from the inside out. As the world leader in proton therapy, we do a lot of things right, starting first and foremost with ensuring that the system is up and running most of the time so that every patient can be treated with minimal disruption to the schedule. I want to recognize the outstanding efforts of IBA’s service operations team at Jacksonville for all that they do behind the scenes to keep our system running reliably. They work 24X7 to ensure that our technology is optimized and available for patient treatment.
From a technology standpoint, IBA’s system is the most precise in the industry so I took comfort in knowing that our proton therapy system was treating the area that needed to be treated and not healthy tissue. That said, there are ways that we can make the system more user friendly for the therapists — making their jobs easier and improving operational efficiencies. From a patient perspective, I would like our development team to look for ways to reduce the noises a patient hears during treatment and perhaps find ways to make the table more comfortable. Fabric softener in the sheets does not cut it!
Q: What is on the horizon for IBA and proton therapy? What do you see for the future of proton therapy?
A: Our mission at IBA is to make proton therapy accessible to every cancer patient who can benefit from it. As I mentioned earlier, approximately 20-30% of all cancer patients who require radiation treatment could benefit from proton therapy. Today that actual number treated with proton therapy is less than 1%, so we have a long way to go to increase the awareness of the medical and patient community about the significant benefit of this powerful technology over other treatment alternatives. To move the needle on that measure, we are partnered with expert clinicians, such as the team here at UFHPTI, to research, expand and publish the studies which demonstrate those benefits. We are also looking for ways to engage the patient community, who are wonderful advocates for our technology, in getting the message out. I hope that every patient will become a proton therapy ambassador going forward and spread the word about this treatment option within their community.
As for the future, I am happy to share that the team at UFHPTI is currently partnered with IBA on upgrading their technology to include the latest state-of-the-art imaging and treatment modes. They will continue to be one of the most advanced proton therapy centers in the world.
By Theresa Edwards Makrush
Positive energy radiates from Joy Frank, RN. It’s a quality her patients and colleagues appreciate. This, combined with her decades of experience and certifications in oncology nursing and breast health, is what her patients and coworkers value.
“She’s the kind of nurse I’d want to take care of me,” said Dr. William Mendenhall, professor, UF department of radiation oncology. They’ve worked together for decades, starting out in the 1980s in Gainesville. “She’s available, competent and cheerfully optimistic.”
For the past six years, Joy has worked at the proton therapy institute, first with prostate patients and now with breast cancer patients. Her special training in breast health has benefited proton patients as they manage side effects, especially skin care in the area being treated.
“Joy has provided expertise to the team with her many years working in radiation oncology and research,” said Gail Sarto, RN, director of adult nursing. “She developed teaching tools for the staff to assure our patients with breast cancer have the right information in the right format. She worked with a team of nurses who developed the wound care protocols and this has greatly benefitted our patients affected by breast cancer.”
As Joy begins to transition to her retirement years, working part time since last July, she looked back on her career as a radiation oncology nurse. She recalled her on-the-job training as a radiation oncology nurse, learning how to do the treatments with the cobalt radiation machine. There were no radiation therapists at that time and nurses administered the daily treatments. As the technology has evolved, Joy said each advance has improved radiation therapy for patients.
While she is making plans to retire, she said she will miss her patients. “That’s one of the hardest things I’ll have when leaving is not having the contact with all the patients. You develop a relationship with patients. We’re always in contact. Whenever a patient has an issue or something they’re not sure about, they call us. They know they can call us anytime. They develop that relationship with you.”
By Theresa Edwards Makrush
Blue skies above and gently curving ribbons of blues and greens on the walls and floor welcome our youngest patients in the newly renovated recovery room. It is a serene, private oasis designed to calm the senses as families and the medical team tend to their children who are waking from anesthesia.
At the same time the environment welcomes imaginative play as children arrive and settle in for their daily proton therapy. A nook filled with toys and games allows patients, siblings and parents to relax and have fun together.
The $250,000 renovation was made possible through the generous support of many donors. “Thanks to all who contributed in large and small ways through the UFHPTI For the Children Fund. And thanks to our volunteers, many who are alumni patients, who have championed this fundraising effort,” said Stuart Klein, executive director.
The pediatric program has many ongoing needs in order to maintain the exceptional level of care that has made it one of the largest pediatric proton therapy programs in the world. To make a donation to the pediatric program, click here. Or contact Molly Dworkin, director of development, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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The Precision Newsletter is an electronic-only publication that is distributed by email. Each issue is sent monthly to patients, alumni patients and friends of the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute. As the official newsletter of the Institute, the content is compiled and prepared by our communications representative and approved by the editor Stuart Klein, executive director of UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Special bulletin newsletters may occasionally be prepared when timely topics and new developments in proton therapy occur. If you would like to send a Letter to the Editor, please click here.
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