Willis-Knighton Joins Leading Cancer Centers Participating in National Breast Cancer Study

Dec 10, 2015

n January Willis-Knighton Cancer Center joins leading cancer centers in the United States in a new research initiative evaluating two types of radiation therapy approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for the treatment of breast cancer. The study was initiated by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) based on requirements of the Affordable Care Act to compare photon therapy and proton therapy and determine which is best for treating breast cancer. The focus is to improve key health outcomes identified by PCORI.

Willis-Knighton Cancer Center joins M.D. Anderson, Mass General, Mayo, Emory, Johns Hopkins and other technologically-advanced cancer centers with proton therapy to offer this clinical research program to local patients. 

“We are very proud to participate in this groundbreaking study along with some of the most recognized cancer centers in the United States,” said Lane R. Rosen, MD, director of radiation oncology at the Willis-Knighton Cancer Center. “This study has the potential to change the standard of care in the treatment of patients with advanced or lymph node-involved breast cancer. It will allow the current standard of care to be compared with the newest proton therapy techniques."

Photon radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation used for cancer treatment and features the same type of radiation used in diagnostic x-rays. It is performed using a linear accelerator which sends the photon beam along a path through the body to target the cancerous tissue and then exit.

Proton radiation uses protons (parts of the atom), to target the cancer; however, with proton therapy the protons travel to the tumor, releasing energy only when they reach the cancer. 

Because small amounts of radiation may reach the heart during the traditional photon therapy, patients have increased risk of heart problems in the future. Proton therapy reduces but does not eliminate the heart’s exposure to radiation. Physicians are trying to determine whether one of these types of treatment is better, about the same or worse in terms of side effects, cure rates, length of life or quality of life following treatment.

“National cardiac associations and numerous national investigators believe proton therapy could reduce the overall dose to the heart significantly,” Rosen said. “Willis-Knighton has been one of the early proponents of utilizing the established benefits of proton therapy for women with breast cancer.”

During this study, patients will be randomly assigned to one of the two treatment groups, photon and proton. Each will receive therapy once a day, five days a week for five to seven weeks. 

“The availability of this study to our patients is a source of pride for us, as fewer than 20 centers in the United States currently have the capability to participate,” Rosen explained. “Thousands of patients will be enrolled.”

Women who have breast cancer in at least one lymph node may be eligible to participate. Eligibility information is available by calling (318) 212-4639.

The research is currently funded for five years with an expectation that it will expand to follow patients as long as 15 years.