600 patients and counting: McLaren Proton Therapy Center celebrates a milestone

Author: Matt Bueby

This summer marked the fourth year of treating patients at the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, which is the largest, newest, and most advanced of the two proton centers in Michigan and is part of the Karmanos Cancer Network.

Since 2018, the center's capacity has grown and proton therapy experts have achieved the highest accreditation, certification and capacity to treat any cancer location in the human body. Hundreds of patients have now gone through proton therapy treatment, including the 600th patient, Christopher Watson, who recently completed treatment for prostate cancer in July 2022.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Watson, who is from Flint. “I’m an artist and haven’t been in my studio since this treatment. I want to create more, so I’m looking forward to that, looking forward to the next steps.”

Watson, who turns 60 later this year, was diagnosed in February. Due to his due diligence of yearly check-ups and urology appointments, which included annual Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA) tests, he was able to discover his cancer early, and take the necessary actions quickly.

“I had an enlarged prostate,” said Watson. “Since that discovery, I have been going to the urologist every year. My PSA levels were going up, finally high enough that it was recommended I get a biopsy. Sure enough, they found cancer, a mildly aggressive type, and so they suggested I get treatment.”

Watson was referred to Hesham Gayar, M.D., Medical Director of the McLaren Proton Therapy Center, where after an initial consultation to discuss therapy options, Watson ultimately decided to pursue proton therapy as the best course for treatment.

“It was explained by Dr. Gayar that proton therapy was more targeted," Watson said. “It made sense to do that, and so we started almost right away.”

Compared to traditional forms of radiation, proton therapy releases most of the radiation dose at an exact point inside the tumor. In fact, there is virtually no “exit dose” of radiation beyond the tumor, which means the protons stop at the tumor and do not continue on to harm healthy parts of the body. The end result is that healthy tissues and critical organs are spared from unnecessary radiation, and patients experience fewer side effects and complications, leading to a better quality of life during and after treatment.

“Mr. Watson did wonderfully, and he went through proton treatment with minimal, if any side effects, like many other prostate cancer patients that we have treated since we opened the center in December 2018," said Dr. Gayar.

Prostate cancer was the first type of cancer proton therapy patients were being treated for when the center opened.

“I'm happy I was able to start right away. I'm even more grateful for Dr. Gayar, who was not only straight to the point, but was accessible, and called to check on me often," Watson said. "I thought to myself, 'wow, this is great, he called to check on me.' I'm appreciative of all my doctors, and how they suggested I do this,” said Mr. Watson.

Watson remains thankful for the experience with the team at McLaren Proton Therapy Center.

“I and my entire team are pleased to have the proton technology that allows us to treat solid tumors precisely and safely in sensitive locations where conventional radiation will unnecessarily spill radiation to those critical organs," Dr. Gayar said." Patients and their referring primary care physicians are very happy with the results.

"It is amazing that we have already celebrated over 600 patients completing their treatments."

With an expansion of the center nearing its beginning, the McLaren Proton Therapy Center will nearly double the capacity for treatment and give more cancer patients access to proton therapy upon completion.

Recently diagnosed cancer patients, or those looking for a second opinion, may call (855) MY-PROTON (855-697-7686) or visit mclaren.org/protonconsultation.