SW Florida Proton bringing high-tech care closer to home

SWFL Proton Building

Currently, if you are a loved one wanted to benefit from one of the most advanced radiation treatments to fight cancer, you would have to drive hours.

Only three centers in the state offer proton beam therapy, and not one of them is on the West Coast. However, that’s changing.

At first glance, the site on the corner of Corkscrew and Three Oaks Parkway looks like all the other construction projects dotting the area, but this one is literally ground-breaking.

“When we looked at the landscape in Southwest Florida, there was a major missing piece,” said radiation oncologist Arie Dosoretz. His practice, Advocate Radiation Oncology, committed to bringing one of the most advanced cancer killers to this coast.

It’s an expensive, multi-year project which launched in 2021. At the heart of the $80 million project is a huge particle accelerator.

WINK News health and medical reporter Amy Oshier got an exclusive tour inside the building, still under construction. It includes the cement vault where the proton machine will nest.

“These proton machines are massive. The room that the proton machine will be housed in is over 5,000 square feet,” said Dr. Dosoretz.

Almost everything about proton therapy is big. It requires a jumbo cyclotron that speeds up protons, separates them from hydrogen atoms, and then turns that energy into a beam that is directed into the body. It acts much differently than traditional X-ray radiation, commonly used to eradicate cancer cells.

“Proton therapy is a particle,” said Dr. Todd Pezzi, who is also a radiation oncologist with Advocate. “And the particles are spun in a large, expensive machine and then accelerated into the patient at a pre-specified point, and they are fundamentally different from X-rays in that X-rays pass through you, and protons actually stop at a pre-specified point. So there is no exit dose.”

Therein lies the benefit. Protons hit the cancer and nothing else.

“You can treat a tumor right up against the spinal cord or part of the brain and not treat a different part of the brain. Right next to the heart, and then not give any harmful radiation to anything that really isn’t part of your target,” said Dr. Dosoretz.

Doing this lessens the chance of a patient getting secondary cancer down the road due to radiation exposure, making proton therapy a valuable tool in the cancer toolbox.

“Looking at the nationwide trends, we know there is already an access issue to proton therapy.” Dr. Pezzi said.

Bringing this treatment to SW Florida will keep more patients closer to home.

The new center will not be operational until next year. Once the particle accelerator arrives, it takes months to calibrate. Lee Health is also part of the project and will offer cancer services on the site.

Miami, Orlando and Jacksonville are the three locations in the state presently operating proton centers.

Coming Soon!

Learn more about Southwest Florida Proton, a brand new beacon of hope in cancer care coming soon to the region encompassing Naples and Fort Myers.