Willis-Knighton Health System in Shreveport builds region's first proton facility

Jul 18, 2013

Willis-Knighton Health System is building a $40 million Proton Therapy Center that will offer a high-tech, state-of-the-art radiation treatment for cancer. The 55,000 square-foot expansion of its cancer center is expected to create about 15 new jobs. There are 11 such proton beam centers nationwide. Dr. Lane Rosen, Willis-Knighton’s director of radiation oncology, said during a press briefing yesterday that Willis-Knighton will offer the first compact proton therapy system.

Dr. Lane Rosen stands next to the vault that will house the cyclotron. It will be lowered through the roof this weekend and be encased in 525 tons of reinforced steel and concrete.
Credit Kate Archer Kent

"This is a huge announcement for the country because it’s my belief, and I believe the majority in my field, that proton therapy will replace traditional radiation therapy in the management of localized cancers," Rosen said, following a PowerPoint presentation on the advantages of proton therapy.

Proton therapy is especially suited for treating brain, prostrate, and head and neck cancers, Rosen said. The advantage is its ability to target the tumor and limit radiation exposure in healthy tissue. He expects about 20 percent of his patients will receive this sophisticated therapy, but the treatment possibilities are growing.

“If we could begin with about 15 patients a day, and then possibly move to 20 patients a day, I think that would serve our community very effectively," Rosen said.

There are critics of proton therapy. It’s costly, complex, and there are some conflicting studies about whether it performs better than the traditional radiation therapy. But Rosen has pored over the research, and he concludes that its ability to greatly reduce second occurrences of cancer, makes the price tag worthwhile.

"For example, if we’re able to reduce second malignancies -- which can be caused by cancer care -- by half, the late cost will be dwarfed. It will dramatically favor proton therapy," Rosen said.

The 220-ton machine, named ProteusONE, will be delivered to the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center over the weekend. Rosen expects patients will be able to start treatment on it in fall 2014. He added that he’s working with the two other hospital systems in Shreveport to expand the use of ProteusONE.