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Penn Medicine, in partnership with Virtua Voorhees Hospital, is set to open southern New Jersey’s first proton therapy center in the spring.

Credit: Riley Guggenhime

Penn Medicine, in collaboration with Virtua Voorhees Hospital, is opening southern New Jersey’s first proton therapy center. 

The Penn Medicine | Virtua Health Proton Therapy Center, which is set to open in the spring, will use proton radiation rather than standard X-ray radiation to treat tumors. Penn Medicine has been a driving force in the development of proton therapy and has facilities already open in Philadelphia and Lancaster.

The Philadelphia region is a rising leader in proton therapy development reported The Philadelphia Inquirer. In this precise type of cancer treatment, a particle accelerator generates high-energy proton beams that target the location of the tumor, potentially causing less damage to nearby healthy cells. Proton therapy is typically more expensive than conventional radiation treatment. 

Proton therapy first received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1988. In 2020, a Penn Medicine study found that lung cancer patients treated with proton therapy were at a reduced risk of radiation-induced heart disease. 

“These latest findings suggest … fewer cardiac problems compared to conventional therapy,” Tim Kegelman, chief resident in Penn Med's Radiation Oncology Department, said in a 2020 press release. 

The Abramson Cancer Center at Penn highlights that the lower risk of tissue damage allows for higher radiation doses, which can be more effective in destroying cancer cells. Moreover, patients may also experience fewer side effects, such as pain and nausea. 

Penn Med opened its first proton therapy facility, the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, in 2010. Ralph Muller, the then-CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System, told The Daily Pennsylvanian that the opening was linked to what he called a “renaissance” at Penn Medicine.

In 2019, Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health opened a $48 million proton therapy center at the Ann B. Barshinger Cancer Institute. The Lancaster location is currently the only proton therapy center in central Pennsylvania.

“We see where things are going in the future,” James Metz, chair of the Penn Radiation Oncology Department and head of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, told the Inquirer in 2019. “It’s important to move the technology closer to people’s homes, so they don’t have to travel far.”

The Abramson Cancer Center is currently leading a randomized clinical trial comparing proton beam therapy to traditional radiation. The trial evaluates cure rates, longevity, and side effects in breast cancer patients, in an effort to determine whether proton radiation is more effective than conventional treatment in the long term.

“Our job at Penn is to push the future,” Metz told the Inquirer.