People with cancer who receive radiation treatment — especially children — risk suffering permanent damage to their healthy organs,
But a $1 million donation to the Miami Cancer Institute from Florida Power & Light aims to bolster proton therapy, which reduces collateral damage from radiation.
“The group of patients that will benefit the most are children,” said Dr. Minesh Mehta, chief of radiation oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“Children are growing and unnecessary radiation of tissue results in major stunting and side effects — these are lifelong side effects.”
Relying on sophisticated computer software and simulation, proton therapy allows radiation to beam to the edge of a tumor but travel no farther, according to Mehta. Standard radiation treatments dissipate throughout the body, potentially affecting other organs.
There are fewer than 50 proton therapy programs in the world, and none in the Caribbean or Latin America. Since it opened in 2017, the Proton Therapy Center at the Miami Cancer Institute has treated nearly 500 patients, including more than 60 children.
Dr. Matthew Hall, who oversees pediatric radiation at MCI, used to have to send children with cancer all over the country to access proton therapy programs.
“Now that we have proton therapy here in our community, no one should ever have to leave home again,” Hall said.
When Sharon Prolow’s breast cancer returned, she worried about leaving her two children for months to seek treatment elsewhere.
An elevated risk of heart disease in her family meant the 51-year-old Prolow wanted to avoid traditional radiation therapy. After she found out about the proton therapy program in Miami, Prolow realized she could stay at home in Jupiter with her family.
She went through her proton therapy for several months earlier this year, coming every afternoon from her job as a financial adviser in Brickell. Because of the finely tuned radiation, she felt only slightly fatigued following her treatment and experienced none of the negative side effects she’d been dreading.
The strength of the children she saw at the clinic gave her the strength to overcome her cancer.
“Every day I walked in here, I saw the children who were getting their treatment,” Prolow said. “And they were the ones who inspired me. They were the real heroes, because I knew if they could get it and go through it, I certainly could too.”