By: Marisa Herman Associate Editor
Cancer patients will soon have access to a state-of-the-art radiation treatment machine in Delray Beach.
The South Florida Proton Therapy Institute, a freestanding building on the campus of Delray Medical Center, is currently installing a Varian ProBeam Compact Proton Beam, one of the world’s most advanced radiation treatment machines.
“It’s so exciting to bring the technology here,” said Dr. Tim Williams, the medical director of the institute. “We are lucky to have it.”
Dr. Williams is a board-certified radiation oncologist who has been practicing in South Florida since 1989.
Over the years, he said he has treated 11,000 patients and seen many technological advances in cancer treatment. This $25 million machine known as a cyclotron is the first of its kind in North America, he said. The only other one like it in the world is its prototype in Germany,
It will begin treating patients this summer if the installation timeline goes according to plan. The machine spans multiple stories and is so large it had to be installed through the ceiling by a crane.
Magnets, pipes and tubes interconnect the massive structure to get microscopic protons to attack a tumor.
When it is up and running the machine can treat between 40-50 patients per day. The machine can treat all types of cancers including brain tumors, breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
The difference between this machine and other radiation machines is its ability to target the tumor even more precisely.
Using protons, the beam penetrates the tumor and doesn’t expose radiation to as much normal tissue as other radiation machines.
Dr. Williams said it is much safer. It features a 360 degree gantry rotation and is 300 times faster than traditional radiation.
When the machine rotates around the patient undergoing treatment it will do so with a position accuracy of a millimeter.
“It’s more upgraded than other machines,” he said.
A patient’s appointment will typically last 20 minutes from start to finish with only one minute of actual time under the beam, he said.
The facility, which is currently open, is treating cancer patients with other high-end radiation machines.
There is an area for anesthesia, which will be used to sedate children undergoing radiation therapy. It also has a minor procedure room, treatment rooms and a conference space.
The design is modern and resembles a hotel lobby upon entrance rather than a medical building. Lights hang from the ceiling like clouds and a playful wallpaper of trees fills the back wall. Oversized chairs fill the waiting area.
The facility is run by Dr. Williams and associate medical director Dr. Marc Apple, who grew up in Boca. In 2015, he helped launch Cleveland Clinic’s radiation oncology department in Weston.
Dr. Williams said proton therapy has been around since the 1930s, but remained mostly dormant until 1990. Now, teaching hospitals and independent proton centers across the country and world use proton therapy to treat cancer patients.
There are similar machines in Miami and Orlando, but neither are as current in technology as the one being installed in Delray.
“It’s a great resource for the community,” Dr. Williams said.