Central Florida now has a valuable new tool in the fight against cancer. Orlando Health has officially opened The Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy, bringing state-of-the-art cancer treatment options to those battling cancer in Central Florida. The center, the first to offer proton therapy treatments in Central Florida, joins an elite group of proton therapy centers around the world. It is the third proton therapy center to open in the state of Florida and only the 23rd in the nation. Currently there are 67 proton therapy centers worldwide.
Orlando Health will begin treating patients with proton therapy the first week of April. Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy that uses proton beams to treat selected tumors in adult and pediatric patients. The Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy will treat cancers of the brain, spine, prostate, lung, breast, gastrointestinal tract, head and neck as well as pediatric cancers. Proton therapy, because it can so precisely target tumors, holds the promise of effective treatment with fewer side effects. This type of therapy limits the dosage of radiation to adjacent organs, thereby potentially limiting side effects in all patients, and reducing the effect on growth in pediatric patients.
“Here in Florida we face the second highest cancer burden in the nation. Now patients in Central Florida can receive the most advanced radiation treatment option available close to home,” said Mark Roh, MD, President, UF Health Cancer Center - Orlando Health. . “By opening this proton therapy center, Orlando Health is changing the face of cancer care options available to patients and propelling Central Florida forward as a global healthcare destination.”
The Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy is located along Orange Avenue between Orlando Regional Medical Center and UF Health Cancer Center - Orlando Health. The 15,000 square foot facility, which took four years to build, consists of three floors – two above ground and one underground – in order to accommodate the MEVION S250 superconducting synchrocyclotron proton accelerator. The MEVION S250 is an advanced compact proton therapy system that operates similar to a linear accelerator. The MEVION system at Orlando Health is the 5th system of its kind operating nationwide and one of only 10 currently planned for the United States and Europe.
“We began the conversation to bring proton therapy to Central Florida a decade ago, when there were only a handful of centers around the world and they were huge - the size of football fields,” said Daniel Buchholz, MD, Chairman, Department of Radiation Oncology, UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health. “Now because of forward thinking and development of the compact MEVION system we are able to provide the most advanced proton therapy treatment to our patients.”
The first patient to be treated with proton therapy in Central Florida will be Rhea Birusingh, a 37-year-old woman who found out while she was pregnant that she had a benign brain tumor located behind her right eye. The tumor is inoperable and without proton therapy Rhea would face an increased risk of short term memory decline, and loss of eyesight. Her treatment will begin April 6 and is expected to last six weeks.
“Patients such as Rhea help to illustrate the life-changing effect that proton therapy can have on those facing a difficult cancer diagnosis or, as in her case an inoperable benign tumor that could not be treated as well with conventional radiation,” said Naren Ramakrishna, MD, PhD, Director, Proton Therapy, UF Health Cancer Center -Orlando Health. “Proton therapy is a revolutionary treatment option and it is very exciting that we can now offer this to our patients.”
“I am incredibly grateful and excited that I can receive this treatment, by an expert team of professionals, right here in Central Florida where I live,” said Rhea Birusingh, who will be the first proton therapy patient at Orlando Health. “As a mother of a newborn baby this allows me the opportunity to be treated without leaving my family and to treat this tumor effectively so that I get to savor these precious moments with my son."
In the first year Orlando Health estimates that it will treat 125 patients with proton therapy, approximately 20 patients a day. Once operating at full capacity the proton therapy center is expected to treat 225 patients annually, as many as 26 patients a day. On average, patients undergoing proton therapy receive 25-30 treatments over four to six weeks.
The Marjorie and Leonard Williams Center for Proton Therapy is named in memory of Marjorie Williams, a patient at UF Health Cancer Center - Orlando Health who passed away in September of 2015 following a courageous battle with cancer. Her husband, Leonard, and the Williams Family Foundation provided a leadership gift in her name to Orlando Health to support proton therapy treatment in Central Florida.