Proton therapy brightens outlook for Hampton Roads cancer patients

By Nichelle Parker

Twenty years and 98,000 square feet after the first proton therapy center opened in the United States, Hampton, Va. joins the list of cities now available to offer hope to cancer patients looking for another option.

The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute [HUPTI] is now the largest facility offering proton therapy and the eighth of nine centers built in the United States.

The HUPTI website reports it has five treatment rooms and will be able to treat over 2,000 patients when operating at full capacity.

The center is to eventually employ more than 100 medical professionals and staff members.

Hampton University President William R. Harvey had to raise $225 million in order to make his vision of bringing proton therapy to the region a reality. Now, with $65 million in equipment operational, HUPTI has commenced treatment.

According to the National Association for Proton Therapy, protons are a superior form of radiation treatment. During the process, patients feel nothing and are left with fewer side effects.

Chemotherapy has been the traditional method for treating cancers. Unlike proton therapy, patients who are treated through chemotherapy often suffer from side effects. The National Cancer Institute lists several side effects on its website such as fatigue, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and an increased risk of getting infections.

HUPTI uses a 200-ton machine called a cyclotron to spin particles at 66 percent of the speed of light. The machine transmits the particle beam into the affected area with millimeter precision, while saving healthy tissue that surrounds the cancer.

Each treatment lasts approximately 60 seconds. Depending on the type and severity of the cancer, treatments may only last for 1½ months.

The center committed to begin its treatments with prostate cancer patients. The center’s website said that Harvey’s motivation to create the center came from figures showing that African- Americans suffer with prostate and other cancers at an increased rate especially in the Hampton Roads region.

As of now the center has yet to expand treatment to other forms of cancer.

Sarita Scott, the center’s director of public relations, said in a phone interview that prostate cancer was a good place to start:

“Proton therapy is effective for localized tumors and not cancer that has become systemic.” For the patients currently working with the center, “Treatments last about 60 seconds.”

The Oct. 23 Daily Press reported the center will conduct treatments on other forms of cancer in an editorial. HUPTI plans to treat various other types of cancer to include breast, head, spine, neck and lung in the future.

With figures and facts set aside, the focus turns to the many lives that HUPTI will affect.

In August, Ronald Cosman was the first person treated. He and two other prostate cancer patients are the first group to complete a full program of treatment.

Twelve other prostate cancer patients are undergoing treatment at the center.

The Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute is located at 40 Enterprise Pkwy., Hampton, VA 23666, just off of Magruder Blvd. For additional information call (757) 251–6800 or visit their website at hamptonproton.org.

The writer is a senior at the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications

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