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Breaking Ground for Proton Therapy

Jonah Haakon Albaugh at Proton Therapy Center groundbreaking
Jonah Haakon Albaugh, a brain cancer patient, celebrates after using an excavator to break ground for Huntsman Cancer Institute’s new Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center in Salt Lake City. Photo ©Deseret News Publishing Company

Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) is committed to bringing cutting-edge care to its patients. Proton therapy will be the next step in that promise.

Construction of the first proton therapy center in the Mountain West is underway. The 7,450-square-foot addition will go up at the south end of HCI's Cancer Hospital, at a cost of $31 million. It is projected to begin operation in spring 2021.

Patients applauded at the Proton Therapy Center groundbreaking
HCI Patients are applauded at the proton therapy groundbreaking ceremony.

About half of all cancer patients have some type of radiation therapy as part of their treatment. HCI will implement the latest advance in proton therapy, called intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT). IMPT's distinctive pencil-thin beams put the maximum dose of radiation on the tumor. It keeps damage to surrounding healthy tissues at a minimum. Because of this, IMPT is the favored approach for many tumors in and around vital structures such as the spinal cord and brain stem. It is also the preferred treatment for certain childhood cancers.

Currently, the proton therapy centers nearest to Salt Lake City are in southern Arizona and southern California. The usual treatment course happens five days a week over four to eight weeks. Utah patients and their caregivers face 10-hour drives and expensive long-term stays far from home.

In 2017, 16-year-old Jonah "Haakon" Albaugh had to travel to Seattle to get proton therapy. He and his family temporarily moved after he was diagnosed with a germinoma, a type of brain tumor. The tumor was in the center of his brain. With proton therapy, his tumor could be treated while minimizing radiation dose to other areas of the brain.

"I'm living proof it works," says Haakon. "Proton therapy is my family's new best friend."

Orrin Hatch, Peter Huntsman, Governor Gary Herbert and patients watch the groundbraking of the Proton Therapy Center
Peter Huntsman, Senator Orrin Hatch, Governor Gary Herbert, and HCI patients look out the window to watch as ground is broken for the new proton therapy center.

HCI's new center will be named in honor of retired United States Senator from Utah Orrin G. Hatch.

"The Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center will be the first of its kind in the Mountain West. It will augment the therapies already available at HCI," says Dennis Shrieve, MD, PhD, HCI radiation oncologist and professor and chair of radiation oncology at the University of Utah.

"To have my name affiliated with an institution that is synonymous with hope and healing is among the greatest honors of my lifetime," says Senator Hatch. "Thank you for letting me be a small part of the incredible work you do here."

The new center will be directly connected to HCI's existing radiation oncology department. It is expected to provide treatment for 200 patients a year.

Cancer touches all of us.