CHENNAI: Touted to be the pencil-thin behemoth that slays large tumours, proton therapy will finally make its entry into India in a 150-bed cancer hospital to be built by Apollo Hospitals on the Old Mahabalipuram Road (OMR).
Making it official, group Chairman Dr Prathap C Reddy announced that the `700 crore project would be their latest initiative in the war against cancer. Though the three proton therapy chambers will be operational at the hospital only in 2017, a seminar was held to familiarise doctors with the efficacy of the treatment - with expertise from Dr Ramesh Rengan, Director of Washington University’s Proton Therapy Centre.
Touching on the science behind proton therapy, Rengan said that proton beams had been around for well over half a century but their utility in mainstream oncology had remained largely hidden.
This, for the most part, was due to the cost factor involved, “Though it must have been a lot bigger in the mid-50’s one of those proton beams must have set the researchers back close to a billion dollars. Today, it it still expensive but the good part is that it only costs a fraction of the amount it used to cost,” said the researcher. Proton therapy is particularly useful for lung, prostrate and paediatric cancers. Very often, it is used to centres in the US to deliver high intensity treatment to patients with extremely large tumours in these regions. The size of the proton chamber is twice the size of a normal radio chamber and the sessions normally take between 15 and 25 minutes depending on a variety of factors.
Where proton therapy really makes its mark, pun unintended, is that there is very little collateral damage, “With most other types of radiation or b-day therapy, there is a lot of additional damage to the organs near by and this has a whole load of side effects. Because proton beams are refined to a pencil beam and they can attack the tumour layer by layer with each session, the results are a lot better,” he said. Surprisingly, because of the heavier nature of protons, the beams are extremely effective in larger tumours, “When patients come to us with advanced stage 3 cancers, we often have much better results than with the really small tumours. With defined sizes, the beam works a lot better,” he added.