Swedish Cancer Institute To Add Latest Proton Beam Radiotherapy

Armen Hareyan's picture

Proton Beam Radiotherapy

Swedish Cancer Institute acquired a powerful, cost-effective proton therapy delivery system designed to aid cancer patients who need highly targeted radiation therapy.

Swedish is now beginning to speak with local medical providers and other organizations that may be interested in partnering to employ this revolutionary technology.

SCI executives announced today that they have signed a contract to buy the latest generation of proton beam radiotherapy equipment, known as the Clinatron 250(TM), from Still River Systems of Littleton, Mass. Swedish will be the first center in the Pacific Northwest to offer proton beam radiation therapy (PBRT). The proton facility will cost approximately $22 million, compared to the up to $140 million other hospitals have spent in the past on conventional PBRT installations.

"We want this to be a true community resource," said Swedish Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Cal Knight. "Swedish has long partnered with suburban Seattle hospitals on radiation therapy services and it makes sense to continue that tradition. There is no need for multiple institutions to invest in duplicate medical technology if we can share it effectively for the benefit of all patients in the Pacific Northwest."

In fact, initial discussions with other area hospitals have resulted in interest around the technology and concept. "The idea of making this leading- edge technology available to patients from throughout the region via a partnership is a win-win," said Dave Brooks, chief operating officer of Providence Everett Medical Center. "As a leader in oncology care via the Providence Regional Cancer Partnership, we agree that this could be an exciting collaborative project and is one we're considering because of our commitment to continuously provide Snohomish County patients access to the most advanced care available."


Proton beams differ from conventional X-ray devices because proton particles come to rest after the delivery of a radiation dose to the patient's tumor. As a result, it is possible to provide unprecedented sparing of normal tissues that otherwise would be in the path of the radiation beam. Proton beam radiation therapy is ideally suited for tumors in close proximity to critical structures. Protons are currently used in treating cancers of the prostate, eye, brain, head and neck, spine, breast, and esophagus. Because proton treatments are able to minimize long-lasting tissue damage, the therapy has also proven particularly effective in the treatment of pediatric patients.

"With protons it's possible to precisely concentrate the radiation damage inside the tumor so radiation oncologists can use higher, more effective doses," said Albert B. Einstein Jr., M.D., executive director of the Swedish Cancer Institute. "Proton beam radiation therapy will be an ideal complement to the array of other cancer-fighting tools already available to area residents."

According to the National Cancer Institute, PBRT is available at only a few facilities in the United States. In fact, only about 20 proton therapy centers have opened around the world.

"The availability of proton therapy here in the Puget Sound will eliminate the need for patients to travel outside of our region to access this innovative therapy," said Todd Barnett, M.D., medical director of radiation oncology at the Swedish Cancer Institute.

The benefits of proton therapy have gone largely unrealized due to the high cost of building a proton facility, typically in excess of $100 million. Still River Systems, however, has been able to dramatically reduce the cost of PBRT technology and allow a system to fit in a much smaller space by applying new concepts with super-cooled magnets developed in collaboration with scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Plasma Science Fusion Center. Previous generations of PBRT required a dedicated facility of at least 55,000 square feet, while the Clinatron 250 requires less than 2,700 square feet of space.

"We are dedicated to increasing the availability of proton beam radiation therapy to patients all over the world and we're very pleased that the Swedish Cancer Institute has committed to helping make this technology available to patients in the Pacific Northwest," said Kenneth Gall, Ph.D., Still River Systems' founder and chief technology officer.

Still River Systems is working toward obtaining marketing clearance for the Clinatron 250 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and is hoping to receive approval and open the first unit in fall 2008.

Target date for the first patient treatments using this Seattle partnership proton beam radiation therapy system is December 2010 and Dr. Einstein estimates that at least 200 patients will be treated by PBRT each year.