September 23, 2019 | 90° F

New cancer treatment center offers alternative to X-rays

Photo by Courtesy of Jordan Baxter |

The ProCure Proton Therapy Center, located at 103 Cedar Grove Lane in Somerset, will open on March 20. It will be the first center to offer proton therapy to cancer patients in New Jersey.

After two years of construction and $160 million in financing, a new cancer therapy center in Somerset will open its doors to patients on March 20, offering an innovative treatment in combating tumors.

The ProCure Proton Therapy Center aims to fighting cancer with the use of energy drawn from isolated protons. The center is the first of its kind in the New Jersey area and is only the 10th in the country, said James Jarrett, the president of the center.

“Our mission is to improve the lives of patients with cancer by increasing access to proton therapy,” Jarrett said. “In this country, roughly 80 percent of the patients with cancer get treated in the community, which is why we are here today.”

Health care company ProCure Treatment Center heads the therapy center, Jarrett said. John Cameron, a longtime researcher in using particle physics for therapeutic purposes, started the organization in 2005 to offer a new option for patients.

Proton therapy offers a solution to the many problems associated with the X-ray treatment of cancer, which is the most typical remedy offered in today’s medical world, said Brian Chon, the medical director at the center.

“[X-rays] are like bullets being fired out of a shotgun. On the path to the tumor, it hits a lot of the normal brain tissue. It does hit the tumor, but … it continues to leave this wake of collateral damage to the normal tissues behind it,” Chon said.

He said in contrast to X-rays, protons are able to enter the body much more efficiently, and once they hit the tumor, they are able to release all of their energy and stop from damaging further tissue.

“We are able to minimize the dose [of radiation] to healthy tissues on average at least 50 percent less compared to standard X-rays,” he said. “To me, this is a quantum leap.”

Chon said proton therapy has shown to be a safe and effective therapy in fighting tumors. The new treatment has achieved success in cases of brain, prostate, lung and even breast cancer.

“Over 50,000 patients throughout the world have been treated in the last 50 years [through proton therapy],” he said.

Proton therapy is possible through the use of a cyclotron, a unit of technological equipment weighing 220 tons, said Dennis Mah, the director of Physics at the center. The cyclotron, which took two years to install at the center, works by isolating protons to be used during treatment.

“We take some hydrogen gas in a tank and then apply an electric field to it. We are able to separate the protons from the hydrogen and then [send them] into a transport line,” Mah said.

The protons are transported into one of four different patient rooms, where they are beamed into the specific region of the patient’s tumor, effectively targeting the cancer with minimal radioactive damage to healthy tissue, he said.

Mitch McGuire, a patient who successfully combated his prostate cancer through proton therapy, said the therapy was painless and effective.

“After 29 treatments, I wondered if I had even received a treatment, because I never felt a thing,” McGuire said.

McGuire said it is important that patients know proton therapy is available as a feasible option because it can be hard to make a decision after hearing about the disease’s presence.

“That was the worst day in my life when I heard the word ‘cancer’,” he said. “You don’t know at that time whether it’s a death sentence. You just know it’s bad.”

Sherry Sperring, who successfully warded off her spinal tumor after undergoing proton therapy, said the center would provide huge benefits to the local areas, as it will provide easy access for patients in the region who need the treatment.

“[I saw that] people were traveling and uprooting their lives to get this desired treatment,” Sperring said. “This center is so important to this area because families will not have to be torn apart to travel and receive this treatment.”

By Giancarlo Chaux

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