Brave New World of Proton Treatment

Posted on August 12, 2011

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Reading about the technology and buzz behind proton treatment reminds me a lot about the scene from It’s a Wonderful Life when Jimmy Stewart’s character is offered an exciting new job—‘in at the ground floor with plastics’.  At the time, it was a new industry and people had no way of knowing how ubiquitous plastics would become. Proton treatment will likely not be as pervasive as plastics, but there is some hope that it will become more than a fringe technique for cancer treatment.

As a first time attendee this year at PTCOG, the proton treatment industry’s conference and trade show, it was interesting to see how this particular technology has evolved and matured. Many in the industry are hopeful it becomes more widely adaptable to more common types of cancer. Only a few years ago, four or five proton treatment centers existed; now at least a dozen seem to have announced their commitment to building one.

Luckily, I have seen the process from the inside since Haskell has one under construction and two more in design. These projects are not for any Joe Blow architect and Tom, Dick or Harry construction firm to tackle. Handling the equipment alone is daunting:  concrete walls 7-15 feet thick in some places, 70-100 ton gantries, a 150-220 ton cyclotron, very precise tolerances on vibration and building stability.

Who knows where proton treatment will go. It may be here to stay. It may evolve into something different. It may be displaced by a newer, more promising technology. However it turns, it is neat to be learning and watching the technology be manifest in built form, especially something that may be life-saving to so many people. And being able to participate in something like that is the reason I became a healthcare architect.

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