Proton therapy center opens at Huntsman Cancer Institute

Huntsman Cancer Institute. Photo Courtesy: Huntsman Cancer Institute

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah, June 24, 2021 (Gephardt Daily) — A new proton therapy center has opened at the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake City.

The Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center is the first of its kind in the Mountain West and one of only 37 such centers nationwide, said a news release from University of Utah Health.

“The $31 million, 7,450-square-foot addition adds to an array of radiation therapy technology and expertise available within University of Utah Health,” the news release said.

The center was named to honor Senator Orrin G. Hatch’s longstanding commitment to improve the landscape for cancer care in Utah. Hatch was among the earliest supporters when Jon M. Huntsman Sr. announced his intent to build a major new cancer research center in Utah.

“Huntsman Cancer Institute offers patients an indispensable palliative — hope,” Hatch said. “Hope, that powerful medicine of the soul, is what animates the institute’s mission: hope that our doctors can find a cure; hope that our loved ones can find relief; and hope that someday, hopefully someday soon, we can defeat this disease once and for all. I have no doubt that the Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center will play a critical role in this effort. To have my name affiliated with an institution that is synonymous with hope and healing is among the greatest honors of my lifetime.”

According to the National Cancer Institute, nearly half of all cancer patients receive some type of radiation therapy. Proton therapy is a newer, more sophisticated type of radiation therapy that uses particles called protons instead of photons or electrons used in other radiation treatment. This difference reduces the radiation dose to nearby healthy tissue. Studies show patients have fewer and less serious side effects from proton therapy than traditional radiation therapy.

Up until now, the nearest proton therapy centers were more than 700 miles away, the news release said. Utahns with cancer who needed proton therapy have had to temporarily relocate during the treatment course, which typically lasts four to six weeks, five days a week.

Proton therapy can be used to treat adults and children with many different types of cancer. Physicians consider many factors before recommending proton therapy. Those factors include the age of the patient, the health of the patient, and whether the tumor is located in an area of the body very sensitive to radiation.

“HCI’s newly opened Proton Therapy Center is a game changer for patients in our region,” said HCI CEO Mary Beckerle. “In addition to this innovative clinical resource for patients, HCI will also contribute to advancing research on how proton therapy can be used to its fullest potential.”

Utah Governor Spencer Cox said: “For the residents of our state, having a treatment like this much closer to home and family is critical. The Proton Therapy Center underscores the incredible innovative spirit in our state and brings another critical resource to our work to advance insights into the best ways to deliver world-class care to our citizens, which includes densely populated areas and vast frontiers and rural communities. Together, we will continue to band together to bring hope and healing to cancer patients across Utah and beyond.”

The technology that delivers this treatment is housed in a three-story facility. The equipment includes a 110-ton gantry; a moveable framework that allows the equipment to rotate 190 degrees around the patient, which holds a 15-ton cyclotron, the news release said. It accelerates protons to two-thirds the speed of light. This precision technology allows the treatment to target the tumor from the best angles and avoid important structures in the body. A team of specially trained medical doctors, technologists, technicians, and others work to safely deliver this treatment to adult and pediatric patients as part of their cancer care plan. The new center also includes state-of-the-art tumor targeting, with a special combination of proton treatment delivery and CT imaging for tumor targeting.

Peter Huntsman, chairman and CEO of Huntsman Cancer Foundation, said: “It is a fitting tribute to see this center named in honor of Senator Hatch. World-class facilities such as Huntsman Cancer Institute are not built overnight. This institution, and the Proton Therapy Center, are the culmination of decades of dedication from leaders like Senator Hatch; visionaries such as my parents, Jon and Karen Huntsman; and the gifted researchers, physicians, nurses, volunteers, and more than one million donors. It is this entire community that we celebrate this day.”

When fully operational, the center is projected to care for approximately 200 patients a year.


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