“What drives hope for a cancer patient is the knowledge that they have access to the most advanced tools in the cancer-fighting toolbox,” says William F. Regine, M.D., FACR, FASTRO, FACRO, Professor and Chair, Department of Radiation Oncology, Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Executive Director, Maryland Proton Treatment Center.

Sixty percent of all patients with a cancer diagnosis are prescribed radiation treatment as part of their care plan. Of those patients, twenty to thirty percent could benefit from proton therapy as the preferred method of treatment to provide optimal outcomes with reduced side effects and reduced chance of secondary cancers.

Matthew J. Ferris, M.D., Medical Director, Maryland Proton Treatment Center, and Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at University of Maryland School of Medicine, explains that proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation that precisely targets tumors with a maximum radiation dose that can be stopped at the tumor site without adversely affecting nearby healthy organs. “For example, with thoracic cancer, we can target a tumor in the esophagus with proton therapy while not disturbing the heart, which is located behind the esophagus. Likewise, for breast cancer on the left side, the coronary arteries under the chest wall will be unaffected with proton therapy,” says Dr. Ferris. This highly advanced technology results in fewer side effects for patients and due to its precise nature, can be used to re-treat cancer recurrences even if a patient has had traditional, photon-based radiation previously.

Dr. Ferris discussing proton therapy treatment with patient. (Photo credit: Whitney Wasson)
Dr. Ferris discussing proton therapy treatment with patient. (Photo credit: Whitney Wasson)

With younger people at heightened risk of breast, colorectal, and HPV-related cancers, Dr. Ferris says that proton therapy may be especially beneficial for this demographic. “They will live for decades after their cancer diagnosis, so there will be more time to experience side effects from photon-based radiation. Proton therapy may also reduce the likelihood of cancer recurrence,” he notes.

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Dr. Regine notes that the Maryland Proton Treatment Center (MPTC)—the only proton therapy center in the state—also conducts cutting-edge clinical trials in its fight against cancer and improving outcomes for anyone diagnosed with the disease. The National Cancer Institute has designated the University of Maryland Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, of which MPTC is affiliated, a comprehensive center, the highest designation available.

MPTC is currently the only multi-room center in the Northeast utilizing pencil beam scanning proton therapy in all treatment rooms. With this cutting-edge delivery technique and intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT), the right dose is delivered exactly where it is needed, hugging the tumor’s shape and minimizing the radiation dose neighboring healthy tissues receive.

In addition to highly advanced technology, patients who visit MPTC also benefit from a welcoming, soothing environment with a dedicated team who is there for the entire journey. Patients needn’t wait long for an appointment—Dr. Regine notes that usually appointments can be made within two days after initial paperwork is complete—and each patient has a dedicated concierge member assigned to them who welcomes them at the door, free valet parking, and ongoing communication with primary care physicians and referring physicians. Since many patients travel from across the state to access treatment at MPTC, the Center also can assist with lodging recommendations, travel arrangements, and information on the Baltimore area. Dr. Regine adds that he and his clinical colleagues provide patients and their loved ones with contact details so that they can reach out anytime for information, updates, and to have any questions answered.

“I am very fortunate to be surrounded by team members and faculty who all believe that the patient care experience is our top priority. We see every patient the same we would as our own sister, brother, parent, spouse, or child,” says Dr. Regine.