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UW Health poised to be first in the world to offer upright proton beam cancer therapy

This more effective, affordable, patient-friendly option could be a paradigm shift in proton treatment

MADISON, Wis.UW Health, the integrated health system of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, is beginning construction on a new medical center that could help usher in a new approach to treating cancer with radiation therapy throughout the world.

Partnering with Leo Cancer Care, a medical device company based in Middleton, Wis. with offices in Europe and North America, UW Health becomes the first center in the world to sign with Leo Cancer Care to deliver proton therapy using groundbreaking upright treatment technology.

Proton treatment is cutting-edge precision radiation therapy that uses high-energy proton beams instead of photon X-ray beams or electrons, to deliver cancer-destroying radiation. Proton treatment allows for the highest level of precision, which is particularly important for children and for adults with cancers near vital organs.

While proton treatment is not new, UW Health’s unique and potentially game-changing approach revolves around how the beam is used, or more precisely, how the patient is moved, according to Dr. Paul Harari, chair, Department of Human Oncology, UW School of Medicine and Public Health, radiation oncologist at UW Health.

“The patient is treated in an upright position, which is more natural for the body and allows for better interaction with their care team,” Harari said. “There are several clinical advantages to receiving treatment in an upright position including more natural positioning of the heart and lungs, greater comfort for the patient, reduced radiation to surrounding organs, and greater planning flexibility with the potential for reducing the number of treatment sessions.”

Traditional radiation therapy works by laying the patient on a bed, putting both bed and patient into a large tube and rotating tons of steel, concrete and equipment around them to reach the necessary angle for treatment. Not only is this approach challenging for many patients, especially children, it can be both cost and space-prohibitive for many health systems, according to Stephen Towe, CEO, Leo Cancer Care.

“If you need to change a lightbulb, you don’t hold the lightbulb and rotate the house. We’re applying that simple concept to modern radiation therapy,” Towe said.

With this upright treatment approach, the patient is in a more natural position sitting on a specially designed chair that moves the patient in front of a static proton beam. While this still requires a particle accelerator, it will not need to be rotated, breaking down many traditional barriers to proton treatment and making it an ideal long-term solution for health systems.

“We’ve found this upright position allows for better cardiovascular function as well as more consistent breathing, among other benefits,” Towe said. “But, beyond the clinical benefits, we think patients should be empowered to be upright looking eye-to-eye with their care provider, taking on cancer together.”

UW Health breaks ground on the new facility May 17 and expects to be offering this state-of-the-art treatment to patients in 2024.

“This new approach has the potential to make proton treatment more effective, more accessible and much more patient-friendly. We are excited to be leading the way on this revolutionary concept that could become a model for other health systems around the world,” Harari said.

The Leo Cancer Care technology is in the process of gaining 510k approval and will not be used to treat patients until approval has been granted.


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