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The war on cancer has been long and costly. The critical question is: Are we winning?
Though there is no simple answer, there have been incredible advances in cancer detection, prevention and treatment.
The scientists and doctors at southern California's Loma Linda University Medical Center -one of the largest private medical schools in the western U.S.-- are now chipping away at cancer's deadly grip.
The university's Proton Treatment Center has developed an alternative to traditional radiation therapy. It's proton beam therapy, a more precise form of radiation treatment kills cancerous cells while sparing surrounding tissue and organs.
Proton beams are delivered differently than X-ray beams. Doctors have to limit the dose of traditional radiation therapy because it irradiates everything in its path. On the other hand, with proton beam therapy, the positively charged subatomic protons enter the body at a very low dose and gradually increases as the beam approaches and destroys the tumor. The radiation dose then drops to zero as the beam exits the body, leaving the surrounding healthy tissue and cells unaffected.
Only a few treatment centers in the country offer the new breakthrough procedure. Proton beam therapy is showing promise in the fight against a variety of cancers, including those of the head and neck, eye and orbit, prostate, abdomen, and lung. Breast cancer treatment is in the long term future. The treatment can be used for deeply embedded cancers because of its precision and, for pediatric cancers, it causes fewer long-term adverse effects on growth and development than conventional radiation.
Treatment sessions can range from 1 to 40, depending on the protocol. Men with prostate cancer, for example, typically need about 36-40 out-patient treatments over the course of 6-8 WEEKS. The treatment is painless, non-invasive and takes from 15 to 90 minutes.
"I could not say more strongly how proud I am to be connected with those who represent Loma Linda University ," said Rep. Jerry Lewis, R-Redlands, who's congressional leadership has worked to secure several federal grants for the Proton Treatment Center . "They don't stand back and wait for somebody to suggest that they do something."
According to the National Cancer Research Institute, cancer is the second-leading cause of death in the United States , and the primary cause of death in women between the ages of 35 and 74. If current trends continue, cancer is expected to be the leading cause of death in the United States by 2010.
Though the war against cancer is far from over, many believe that with new treatment options such as proton beam therapy, the battle for a cure has reached a turning point .
The Loma Linda University Medical Center is celebrating its 100 th anniversary in 2005. For more information on proton beam therapy call (800) PROTONS (776-8667) or visit www.proton-therapy.org or www.llu.edu/proton .
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