Cancer Center

Willis-Knighton to Construct Proton Therapy Center

July 28, 2009

Proton Therapy Center

New Technology Will Enhance Treatment of Cancer Patients

Willis-Knighton has announced plans to construct Louisiana’s first hospital-based proton beam therapy center adjacent to the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, setting the stage for cancer patients in the region to have access to this revolutionary technology. This project represents an investment of approximately $30 million in technology, construction and design.

In the past, proton beam therapy was restricted to university or research centers with a cyclotron and several miles of tunnels or football field-sized facilities. Now, this next generation technology can be delivered in a smaller, more affordable setting. Construction at Willis-Knighton will join the proton beam therapy center to the north side of the existing cancer center. Willis-Knighton will be the first hospital in the state to offer this technology.

“The addition of the WK Proton Therapy Center to the existing cancer center is a logical next step for the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, reinforcing our leadership in radiation oncology,” said James K. Elrod, President and CEO of Willis-Knighton. “This is leading edge treatment of cancer patients, and we are pleased to be able to bring this exciting technology to this region.”

Proton beam radiation is a sophisticated use of radiation to shrink tumors, precisely targeting the tumor while avoiding damage to the surrounding tissues and organs. “The initiation of particle therapy with protons at the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center will allow for the most advanced form of cancer therapy currently available in the world for patients with malignancy,” said Dr. Lane Rosen, director of radiation oncology for the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center. “Proton therapy has demonstrated tremendous improvements in local tumor control with much less healthy tissue exposure and side effects compared to all other radiation treatment modalities. Proton beams have the unique biological characteristic of delivering no dose immediately beyond a tumor’s location.”

The image-guided miniaturized proton system selected by Willis-Knighton is the Monarch250 which was developed by Still River Systems in Littleton, Mass., in partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The company was founded in 2004 to provide quality cost-effective proton therapy solutions, minimizing the size, footprint and operating cost required to provide this service to cancer patients. It has contracted to partner with some of the most technologically advanced and influential providers in the field of radiation therapy.

Design for the WK Proton Therapy Center was provided by The Estopinal Group. McInnis Brothers has been selected as contractor. Pending final approval of the technology by the Food & Drug Administration, construction is expected to begin in January or February of 2010 with completion of the building in mid-summer of 2011. Delivery and installation of the proton beam equipment will take an additional 90 days. Construction officials anticipate that patients could begin receiving treatment in the proton beam center as early as the fall of 2011.

Fast Facts - Proton Beam Therapy

Photon versus Proton

Traditional radiation therapy has been delivered to tumors by a linear accelerator that creates photons. These photons can cause damage to surrounding tissues as it moves through tissue. The beams of photons must be precisely targeted to avoid tissue damage, and this targeting process is very complex.

Proton radiotherapy deposits most of its energy at a specific depth and then stops entirely. This allows the physician to tailor the deposition of dose to the specific depth and shape of the tumor while simultaneously reducing the damage to surrounding normal tissue. The advantages of proton radiotherapy over conventional radiotherapy are emphasized in areas of the body with critical adjacent structures (e.g. eye, brain, base of the skull, spine, and prostate) as well as in pediatric tumors.


Proton radiotherapy was first proposed in 1946, and by 1954 the first patient had been treated. From the early 1960s until the late 1980s, proton therapy was investigated for clinical efficacy at small research facilities. The first hospital based proton facility opened at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California in 1990. About 20 institutions around the world have since installed proton therapy systems and treated over 50,000 patients.

Fast Facts - Building Project

  • Therapy center will adjoin Willis-Knighton Cancer Center, using a portion of what is now a parking lot north of the cancer center, between Hearne Avenue and Albert Bicknell Drive. 
  • Willis-Knighton Cancer Center (71,843 square feet) opened in 2000 
  • Proton Therapy Addition 26,526 square feet 
  • Vaults for Equipment – Require 3745 cubic yards of concrete (416 trucks of concrete)

Still River Systems Contacts

Melanie Miller
Lionel Bouchet, PhD
Telephone: 978-540-1551