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Talks with Docs: Matthew Poppe, MD

Read Time: 3 minutes

Video Transcript

But it also puts into perspective that whatever sort of problems I face, they can be overcome, just as these kids have found ways to overcome their cancer.

Huntsman Cancer Institute presents Talks with Docs

My name is Matt Poppe. I am a professor in radiation oncology here at Huntsman Cancer Institute. My roles here include radiation for our pediatric population, women with breast cancer, patients with sarcoma. And then I also run our Proton Center

What is proton therapy?

Radiation therapy is basically the medical science of delivering particles of energy to break DNA, to kill cancer. We use different particles, so we can generate electrons or photons, which is the workhorse of what we've been doing for the last 30 to 50 years. There are some newer, harder to generate particles. The one in particular that we now have here is something called proton radiation. It's a charged particle. It has several physical benefits over a photon, in that it goes to a set distance in the body and stops. It potentially has less impact to the normal tissue.

Who benefits from proton therapy?

It can be very beneficial for certain tumor types and certain populations. As far as tumor types, it really has to do with where in the body it is. Is it near critical structures? Is it in a place where this exit dose of radiation might have a negative impact? Such as, into the heart which we could potentially stop, or in certain places in the brain that maybe we can protect. And for certain tumor types, it can be very beneficial. And then for pediatric patients, or any young adult patients, it decreases risks of late effects, such as secondary cancers by just depositing less radiation to normal tissue. Prior to our opening of our center two years ago, the nearest center was either the University of San Diego, or up at the University of Washington. And our patients were having to travel 12 hours. It was really disruptive for both their family and their cancer care. it's really been important for our patients that need this therapy that they can get it closer to home. 

Before medical school, you worked for NASA?

I decided that I really wanted to work directly with people and for people as opposed to computers and problem solving. I was working for a component called SETI—The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. It was a very technical job. Again, I really wanted a field that I could have direct impact on people. 

What do you like to do on your day off?

I'm an avid gardener. I don't live all that far from Huntsman Cancer Institute, but I do find a way to tend an acre of land and I keep an orchard and I am an apiarist. I have honey bees. I've got chickens and a really big garden. That is really one of my true passions and loves. My kids joke, that I'm a doctor who wants to be a farmer. Because I really do love the farming that I do.

What have you learned from your patients?

Patients give me such an amazing perspective in life, especially caring for kids with cancer. Caring for 5, 7, and 16-year olds that come in every day with a smile on their face. They've gone through treatment that most people would never even contemplate that they could go through. They've lost their hair. They haven't been able to go to school with their peers. And they still remain optimistic about life and about the world. They still have plans for the future. They still talk about going to college and what they want to do when they grow up. And, every night when I go home, one, I realize how lucky I am for my health and that of my kids, but it also puts into perspective that whatever sort of problems I face, they can be overcome. Just as these kids have found ways to overcome their cancer.

Cancer touches all of us.