By Marty Trieschmann
The Proton Center of Arkansas opened Sept. 27 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS), becoming the first proton therapy center in Arkansas and only the 43rd in the nation to provide the most advanced cancer radiation treatment in the world.
Proton therapy is a cutting-edge form of radiation that uses positively charged proton particles to destroy tumors, often in hard-to-reach areas, with greater precision and significantly less damage to healthy organs and tissues. Patients receiving proton therapy have less severe and fewer side effects than conventional X-ray radiation, which improves their recovery time and quality of life.
“What started more than three years ago with a shared vision to bring the most advanced cancer therapy to Arkansas is finally here,” said UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA. “It’s a proud day for UAMS and for health care in Arkansas as we join a small, elite group of states that offer this groundbreaking therapy for children and adults with cancer.”
Recognizing the burden on patients forced to travel out of state for the sought after therapy, UAMS joined with Arkansas Children’s, Baptist Health and Proton International to build the Proton Center.
“From opening the UAMS Baptist Health Cancer Clinic and Infusion Center to Arkansas’ first proton center, this is another example of how strategic collaboration with other leading health care providers can improve the health of Arkansans,” said Troy Wells, president and CEO of Baptist Health. “Baptist Health is thrilled to help bring this therapy to our state knowing that patients are going to be able to receive the best cancer care right here in Arkansas.”
“Proton International is focused on a singular mission — to bring proton therapy to more people who can benefit from it,” said Chris Chandler, director of Proton International. “The fact that we can now make this available to the residents of Arkansas and the surrounding areas is a mission fulfilled.”
Proton therapy is used to treat a wide range of cancers in both children and adults, including brain, spine, breast, esophageal, head and neck, liver, lung, lymphomas, eye, pancreatic and sarcomas.
Proton therapy is the preferred treatment for children who face risks from unnecessary radiation exposure that adults do not, such as developmental delays, hormone deficiencies, effects on bone growth, and potential long-term effects of secondary cancers in exposed tissues.
“This is an exciting day for advancing child health in Arkansas,” said Marcy Doderer, FACHE, president and CEO of Arkansas Children’s. “Through this partnership, the children we serve will now have access to this specialized treatment close to home.”
UAMS is the only provider of radiation therapy for children in Arkansas.
The Proton Center is part of the new $65 million UAMS Radiation Oncology Center, which opened in July at 3900 W. Capitol Ave. in Little Rock in a building adjacent to the UAMS Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute. The Proton Center occupies 9,000 square feet on the second floor of the three-story center and includes the proton treatment room, a CT room to prepare patients for proton therapy, a high-dose radiation room, gowning rooms, recovery rooms, an anesthesia room, eight exam rooms, a large family area for pediatric patients, and a physician work room.
UAMS broke ground on the 58,000-square-foot Radiation Oncology Center in May 2021, primarily to accommodate the proton center. The 55-ton cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator that powers the proton beam, made a cross-country journey by land and sea to Little Rock. Starting in Belgium, the massive equipment that included the 75-ton gantry, traveled by sea for five weeks, then by police escort on six semi-tractor trailers from the Port of Houston to Little Rock.
The proton treatment room features a unique ambient experience that allows patients to choose a room theme and color that is digitally displayed on the walls and ceiling. This is especially helpful in reducing anxiety in children during treatment.
The center will treat its first adult patient on Thursday, Sept. 28. Proton treatments typically take 30 minutes.
The Proton Center is currently scheduling patient evaluations and consultations with referring physicians. Call 1-501-664-4568 for an appointment.