Written by Phil Cerroni
By Phil Cerroni
Irving has lately been pumping itself full of economic steroids in the race to become one of the strongest destinations in America. The city’s newest venture is a cancer treatment facility that utilizes state of the art proton therapy, a technology so cutting edge that there are only eleven such facilities in the United States.
The project, a collaboration between Baylor Health Enterprises, Texas Oncology and McKesson Specialty Health, has been in the planning stages for a few years, and the partners say they are ready to break ground in 2013 and hope to be treating patients by the end of 2015.
Dr. B. Scott Cheek, a radiation specialist with Texas Oncology, explained why proton therapy is so much more advanced than treatments currently in wide use.
“Because of the physical properties of the beam, proton beam therapy uses heavier charged particles so you can treat a distinct tumor, minimizing damage to surrounding structures,” Cheek said. “Protons have a Bragg peak where the energy into and out of the target is very low, but at the target you can have the Bragg peak very high.”
Because the beam is affecting significantly less tis
“Treatments take about 10 to 15 minutes a day. Patients can have a little fatigue or hair loss depending on the area you treat,” continued Cheek. “It can be anywhere from 1 to 5 treatments or up to 30 or 40 depending on the type and site of the cancer.”
Not only is the treatment cutting edge, but the company building the machines is one of the best in the business.
“The group that we chose to build our proton machine is called Ion Beam Applications,” Cheek said proudly. “They’ve been building proton centers for over 20 years. They have the most advanced technology.
“Like any other type of technology, [proton] technology advances as the technique is around. We’ll be using a cyclotron; after the protons are extracted from the hydrogen the cyclotron speeds up the protons to about 2/3 the speed of light. All of that and our needs fit really perfectly.”
Cheek went on to elaborate on why Irving is the prime location for this facility.
“Texas Oncology and McKesson and Baylor have been collaborating for years on putting a center in the DFW Metroplex,” he said. “The airports are important because Texas Oncology is a statewide network – over 130 sites – and very likely we will be treating patients at that center who do not live in the DFW Metroplex. We are also part of the US oncology network that has a lot of treatment centers around the country so there’s a chance we’ll have patients from around the country as well.”
Dr. Roy Beveridge, chief medical officer for McKesson Specialty Health and the US Oncology Network, said the center will not only provide outstanding medical services but will advance the science of oncology as well.
“US Oncology is the largest accruer for radiation patients in the United States. So we think this is very important for research; we think it’s very important for care of our patients,” Beveridge said. “Frequently there’s not the best treatment in cancer – we’re always trying different things to find out what’s best and has the least side effects. (Proton therapy delivers very high energy packets and has lots less toxicity when it treats patients). Given our very significant bent in research, it will be used for research also.”
Beveridge made it very clear, however, that the center is about saving lives.
“As with most clinic research done with people who are treating the patients, we are very devoted to doing the research but this tool will be used primarily for the treatment of cancer patients.”
Not only will the center provide much needed cancer treatment to the Southwestern and South Central United States, but Irving provides the community the center wants as part of its core.
“Eighty percent of cancer treatment in America takes place in a community-based setting,” Cheek said.
Chris Wallace, president of the Greater Irving-Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce, pointed out some of the community aspects that enabled Irving, which has been part of the project for two years now, to outshine the competition lobbying for the treatment center.
“Just like a lot of our relocations, a lot of cities are looking at competing. They could have set up on the other side of DFW in Grapevine or in Fort Worth,” Wallace said. “They want to be introduced to the major companies who are here, to their employees. They want us to help them in terms of brand recognition; we are certainly happy to step up to the plate and help promote on their behalf that Irving and North Texas are home to this facility. Irving has the expertise to do that.”
One important aspect of this community is the infrastructure necessary for out of town patients.
“A lot of these families that are coming in are going to stay there for several weeks at a time, and they actually can stay close to the facility; there are several wonderful hotels, corporate housing opportunities right around the general vicinity.” Wallace continued. “There are things to do around the facility; they’ll feel safe there.”
Although it will be another three years before the treatment center becomes a reality, it is already putting Irving on the map as both a regional and national medical powerhouse, and it also imbues a spirit of service the city needs to complement its burgeoning economic growth.