Proton Therapy


In its first year of operation, the S. Lee Kling Center for Proton Therapy has treated more than 100 cancer patients with an innovative form of radiation therapy. Proton Beam Therapy

Proton Beam TherapyThe treatments, which utilize the world's first proton system of its kind, are delivered at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine.

Proton therapy is a precise form of radiation treatment that targets tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissues, making it ideal for adults with tumors near the heart, brain or other sensitive locations as well as treating pediatric cancer patients. The new technology delivers the same targeted, noninvasive proton treatments as conventional systems but the equipment can be housed in a much smaller space and costs less.

"We offer proton therapy to patients we think would benefit from this particular technology, such as children and those with tumors in the brain or around the spinal cord," says Jeffrey Bradley, MD, a Washington University radiation oncologist and director of the S. Lee Kling Center for Proton Therapy. "We offer a full suite of cancer treatments, and this technology helps meet the health-care needs of the patients we serve."

In its first year of operation, the new system has:

  • Delivered more than 6,700 clinical treatment fields to 118 patients. (One treatment field equals the use of a single proton beam. Patients typically receive two or three treatment fields per therapy session.) Of those patients, about 25 percent were children and 75 percent were adults.

  • Treated more than 20 patients in a single day.

  • Addressed a variety of complex tumors. Of adult tumors treated, 43 percent were in the brain, 27 percent were in the lungs, 11 percent were in the prostate and 8 percent were in the esophagus.

Lawrence Barry, of St. Louis, received proton therapy at Siteman for a rare brain tumor. The tumor was causing severe headaches and loss of memory until it was surgically removed. His physician, Washington University radiation oncologist Clifford Robinson, MD, recommended proton therapy instead of X-ray radiation as a follow-up treatment.

"For every patient, we make a thoughtful decision about whether proton therapy is the best option," says Robinson, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at Washington University. "In Mr. Barry's case, we decided to use protons because it would decrease substantially the radiation dose to his heart, lungs and bowels. In addition, proton therapy reduces the side effects sometimes caused by X-ray radiation, such as nausea, diarrhea and fatigue."

A superconducting synchrocyclotron proton accelerator is a key component of the proton therapy system. The relatively small size of the device allows it to fit in a single room not much larger than a traditional radiation therapy room. The cost of this proton therapy system represents a fraction of the investment required for traditional proton therapy systems, which typically are housed in football field-sized buildings and cost more than $150 million.

The center serves the St. Louis region and the Midwest. The next closest location offering proton therapy is in the Chicago area, about 280 miles away.

The proton therapy center was named after the late S. Lee Kling, a visionary St. Louisan who traveled to the East Coast to receive proton therapy for a tumor. Kling, a former chairman of The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, believed the therapy should be more accessible to patients in St. Louis.

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