South Florida cancer patients seeking high-tech care will have more options in the coming years as the University of Miami Health System’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center announced Thursday that it will build the region’s second proton therapy program.
The proton therapy program, which is scheduled for groundbreaking in the spring, will be based at UHealth Tower (formerly UM Hospital), an inpatient hospital that has struggled to turn a profit for the academic medical system.
Dr. Alan Pollack, chair of radiation oncology for UHealth, said in a statement that a proton therapy program will provide cancer patients with more opportunities to participate in clinical trials that seek to discover new approaches for treating disease.
“Proton therapy is a technology that has the potential to improve outcomes in a subset of patients,” Pollack said.
The announcement follows last year’s launch of Baptist Health South Florida's Miami Cancer Institute, the first in South Florida to use proton therapy, which blasts highly charged proton particles at tumors, reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.
Published medical research has found that proton beam therapy is particularly useful in treating tumors in patients with certain cancers of the spine, head, neck, nose and sinuses.
Sylvester will use the Varian ProBeam Compact system, which allows proton beams to be modulated around irregular shapes. Installation of the equipment is scheduled to begin in early 2019, with the first patients being treated in the first half of 2020.
Leaders of UHealth expect that the demand for cancer care in Florida will surge as the state’s population increases and ages.
“Florida will have the highest incidence of cancer in the country,” Steven Altschuler, the former CEO of UHealth, told the Miami Herald’s editorial board in May 2017, before he resigned in August.
Altschuler added that rate of patient growth at Sylvester had been about 15 percent a year: “That’s really much higher than you see in any other place in the country.”