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Painting Radiation on Tumors

Proton therapy comes to Mira Mesa


Scripps proton center lobby
Scripps proton center lobby

People with cancer are living longer these days, thanks to new therapies. But the treatments themselves can cause life-threatening complications, even years later. The new Scripps Proton Therapy Center opening in Mira Mesa promises to deliver radiation with fewer side effects. Protons are subatomic particles that stop at their target, sparing nearby organs a radiation bath. Conventional X-ray beams travel through the body. One study showed that breast cancer patients suffer damage to their heart with traditional radiation treatment.

“The greater the radiation dose to the heart—which you often cannot miss part of when you treat with X-rays—the more likely that person is going to have a major cardiac event 10, 15 years later,” says Carl Rossi, medical director of the Scripps Proton Therapy Center. “Conversely, with protons, in many cases we can radiate the breast and the exposure to the heart would be zero.”

The Scripps proton center is the 12th in the nation and the second west of the Rockies. It’s the first equipped with a more precise tool, called pencil-beam scanning, in all of its treatment rooms. Doctors essentially “paint” radiation onto tumors layer by layer, similar to how a 3D printer works. The $220 million facility is open to patients who could benefit from proton therapy, even if their doctors aren’t with Scripps.

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