First-in-city proton therapy center to provide alternative to radiation treatment for cancer

An artist's rendering of the UT Health San Antonio Proton Therapy and Research Center

UT Health San Antonio and Proton International LLC are partnering to build a proton therapy center to provide an advanced alternative to conventional radiation treatment for cancer.

Unlike with X-ray radiation, proton therapy uses beams of high-energy protons, or positively charged particles in atoms, to precisely target tumors while largely sparing surrounding healthy tissues and reducing side effects. The proton therapy center at UT Health San Antonio will be the first in the city and South Texas, and one of only about 40 in the United States.

Proton International, based in Alpharetta, Georgia, works with hospitals and physician groups to develop proton therapy facilities, with three open in the U.S. and one in the Netherlands, and more under construction.

Using private capital, Proton International will build and own the new facility, to be called the UT Health San Antonio Proton Therapy and Research Center, and hire technicians and support staff. The Mays Cancer Center at UT Health San Antonio will staff the center and oversee all research, medical and academic training, and grants.

The partners anticipate breaking ground on the three-story, 26,000-square foot center in the fall, on land leased from the San Antonio Medical Foundation adjacent to UT Health San Antonio’s Greehey Campus, on Floyd Curl Drive between Hamilton Wolfe and Wurzbach roads. The campus includes such leading cancer facilities as the Mays Cancer Center and the Greehey Children’s Cancer Research Institute.

The proton therapy center is expected to take two years to complete. Currently, there are only two other such centers in Texas, in Houston and Dallas. With the new center in South Texas, local patients no longer will need to relocate for treatment that often lasts six to eight weeks at a time.

“This cutting-edge technology is part of our effort to forge a future in which no patient will have to leave San Antonio to receive world-class innovative treatments,” said Ruben Mesa, MD, FACP, executive director of the Mays Cancer Center. “It is befitting our standing as the only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in South Texas and will contribute to our mission of decreasing the burden of cancer in San Antonio, South Texas and beyond.”

Benefits of proton therapy

Proton therapy is particularly effective in treating cancers of the brain, spine, eye, liver, prostate and breast with an estimated 60% reduction in radiation to surrounding tissues. It is widely used to treat children with cancer, as children are particularly sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy.

The new center will house a 15-ton cyclotron — the hulking machine that produces the proton beam and delivers it to a precise location in the body to destroy tumor cells — as well as the latest technology and equipment, and a treatment room, control room, exam rooms and clinical space.

Advanced research efforts continue to hone the use of proton therapy. Every new center increases the number of facilities enrolling patients in national data registries and in clinical research trials to document clinical outcomes and enhance the benefits from an appropriate use of the technology.

“The new proton therapy and research center here is expected to expand science and medical training, as well as attract faculty, research and grants in the bioscience fields, and produce innovation in medical and bioscience research,” said Mark Bonnen, MD, chief medical officer of Mays Cancer Center and chairman of UT Health San Antonio’s Department of Radiation Oncology.

Economically, for San Antonio and South Texas, the new center is projected to create more than 30 jobs with an average annual salary of $84,500, and generate roughly $4.3 million in city and county tax revenues over 10 years. It is expected to serve approximately 500 patients each year, primarily from South and West Texas, and Mexico.

“The Proton International team is pleased to be working with our partners to bring this important technology to San Antonio and South Texas,” said Chris Chandler, chief executive officer of Proton International. “The vision of UT Health San Antonio and the Mays Cancer Center is to ensure this technology will be available in the fight against cancer and will make a real difference in patients’ lives.”

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