Future cancer patients in South Jersey won’t have to go farther than Voorhees Township, Camden County, to get a type of pioneering radiation treatment called proton therapy.
Penn Medicine and Virtua have teamed up to build a new proton therapy center on the campus of Virtua Voorhees’ acute care hospital by 2020 in order to offer therapy to more residents of South Jersey.
“Currently, patients who may benefit from proton therapy, especially for hard-to-treat cancers, can only receive this therapy at a handful of specialized centers across the country,” Dr. James M. Metz, chairman of radiation oncology at Penn Medicine, said in a statement.
The plans, called Project Olympus, expand upon Penn Medicine’s existing Roberts Proton Therapy Center in Philadelphia, established in 2010. The new $35 million center will bring evaluation, treatment and other care to residents who wish to be close to home while dealing with a serious illness.
Traditional radiation therapy uses X-rays that go into the body from one side and come out the other, touching more than just cancer cells and sometimes causing damage to healthy tissue during treatment.
Proton therapy uses a proton beam that enters the body at a low dose of radiation. When it hits its target of cancer cells, the dosage increases and the beam does not continue through to the other side of the body, sparing healthy tissue and maximizing efforts on attacking cancer cells.
Penn Medicine radiation oncologists have treated nearly 4,500 patients since the Philadelphia location opened and have trained more than 500 medical professionals in the treatment, officials said.
Clinical trials at the Philadelphia location have led to new treatments for pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and other diseases that are otherwise difficult to treat with radiation.
Hospitals and providers around the country have been steadily opening their own proton therapy centers, and the newest one intended for Voorhees would be the third in New Jersey.
The ProCure Proton Therapy Center, a collaboration between Princeton Radiation Oncology and CentraState Healthcare System, opened in Somerset, Somerset County, in 2012. The Laurie Proton Therapy Center at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital opened in New Brunswick, Middlesex County, in 2016.
Patients of the developing proton center in Voorhees will, in addition to treatment, get access to clinical trials involving proton therapy, if appropriate.
The treatment planning phase of care will be done virtually so that patients can access Penn Medicine experts without having to go into Philadelphia for appointments, officials said.
“For patients, it will be the same experience they would get on Penn’s campus,” Metz said.