- Associated Press - Saturday, March 22, 2014

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - The smell of newness hangs in the air at the Mayo Clinic Richard O. Jacobson Proton Therapy Center as it awaits its first patients.

“We’re planning for a little over 1,200 new patients,” said Michael Herman, chair of the Department of Physics at Mayo, including 200 to 250 children.

The public areas of the 200,000-square-foot building are largely complete. They look as much like a five-star hotel lobby as they do the entrance to a medical facility designed for what Mayo calls “the next chapter in cancer treatment.”

Proton therapy removes neutrons from hydrogen atoms and accelerates the remaining protons to 60 percent of the speed of light. Large magnets bend the stream of protons to send them in tightly focused beams into a patient’s tumor.


The Hitachi equipment needed to perform the treatment is itself gigantic, and it requires physicists in addition to oncologists to determine dosing and delivery. Patients are fitted with immobilization molds that help them maintain a specific pose for each treatment.

A semitruck-sized metal “gantry” is used to deliver the beam, rotating up to 180 degrees around the patient, while a robotic system will “precisely position the patient.”

The five-year proton-therapy project already has had a local impact, employing about 500 construction workers. When fully open, it will double the size of Mayo’s radiation-oncology staff to 128 people, the Post-Bulletin (http://bit.ly/1gRlowE ) reported.

But its potential effect will be even bigger, as about 3,000 visitors per year (patients, their family caregivers and loved ones) begin streaming into Rochester starting in summer 2015 and increasing to full capacity by 2016 as equipment gets “commissioned” a treatment room or two at a time.

When at full capacity in 2016, Mayo expects to use proton therapy to treat children, along with adults dealing with benign and malignant brain tumors, some types of breast cancer, eye melanomas and cancers of the lung, esophagus, gastrointestinal tract, pancreas and liver.

Proton-therapy treatment will be prioritized for patients with cancers that are near vital organs, such as the heart, brain and lungs; those who are young, with many potential years of life remaining and those for whom the cancer is curable.

Early projections show about 75 percent of the new patients will come from Minnesota, said Dr. Robert Foote, chair of Mayo’s Department of Radiation Oncology. About 15 percent to 20 percent will come from surrounding states and elsewhere in the U.S. The remainder will come from other countries.

But, Foote noted, those are rough estimates because “this could have more of a national/international draw.”

“We’ll need more places for them to stay,” Foote said, whether it’s hotels or hospitality lodges.

At the Sandra J. Schulze American Cancer Society Hope Lodge of Rochester, he said, “there’s an ongoing discussion about expanding their capability.” Hope Lodge opened its previous expansion in 2007, eliminating its waiting list for the first time in five years.

But by 2012, the waiting list once again had ballooned to the level it had been before the expansion. Now, hundreds of more adult patients seeking cancer-related treatment will be coming to Rochester. Many will need the type of money-saving accommodations Hope Lodge provides.

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