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Proton therapy now available in Oklahoma City for some breast cancer patients

ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City recently added breast cancer to the list of cancers it will treat. But a debate exists about the benefit that proton therapy provides these patients.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: April 22, 2013

Nadine Bye isn't shy about her age.

She's 70, and she will tell anyone who asks because, frankly, she has worked hard to get this far.

Bye has survived two brain surgeries and a bout with breast cancer 10 years ago.

On Tuesday, she had her last proton therapy treatment after being diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer.

Like many people, Bye didn't know about proton therapy until her doctor proposed it.

“Ask me about it, and there's nothing better,” Bye said. “I'll swear by it, as far as I'm concerned.”

Of the estimated 1.5 million Americans who were diagnosed with cancer in 2009, 60 to 75 percent received radiation therapy for their disease, according to the National Cancer Institute.

For some patients like Bye, they were able to choose proton therapy over other traditional cancer treatments. That's because the ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City recently added breast cancer to the types of cancer it will treat with proton therapy.

But using proton therapy to treat breast cancer is not an agreed upon approach, and many doctors continue to debate what benefit the treatment provides patients.

Cancer returns

Bye thought she was done with breast cancer. She was fought cancer at 60, and after 10 years of no news about her cancer, she thought she was in the clear.

But in October, she felt a lump near her collarbone. A doctor's appointment and several tests later, she found out that she had cancer again in her lymph nodes on her right side.

Bye's cancer was too complex to operate on, and doctors decided proton therapy was the appropriate approach.

“The main reason that I wanted to go through proton therapy was it saves other organs,” she said. “And when you're having treatment from your neck to your waist, you've got your lungs and your esophagus and your thyroid and all of those organs that could be affected, and with protons, (it) doesn't do that.”

Not everyone with breast cancer is a candidate for proton therapy.

Dr. Marcio Fagundes, a radiation oncologist at ProCure, said proton therapy is not meant as a replacement for cancer treatment for all patients.

Rather, ProCure has specific patients it will consider for proton therapy, including breast cancer patients with stage three breast cancer who have relatively large tumors in their breast, chest wall and lymph nodes.

Traditional radiation therapy has been used to treat cancers for a century using radioactive energy rays called “photons,” according to the American Cancer Society. Meanwhile, proton therapy is a type of radiation treatment that delivers radiation to tumors using tiny, subatomic particles, or protons, instead of photons, according to the organization.

With breast cancer, one of the main concerns is radiating the breast or chest wall might cause doctors to radiate the person's heart or lungs as well. This sometimes can cause heart disease and complications later in life.

Fagundes said with protons, this isn't the case. With traditional radiation, doctors cannot control how deep the radiation penetrates. But with protons, doctors can determine down to the millimeter where protons should stop, he said.

“Everybody agrees that protons have a tremendous advantage as far as sparing potentially critical tissues like the brain and the spinal cord, and we believe that similarly we can use protons to spare the heart,” he said.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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