KU Hospital installing new $50 million+ machine to make fighting cancer fast, painless

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The University of Kansas Health System raised $1.7 million this month during “Treads and Threads,” the annual fundraiser for patients at the KU Cancer Center.

This year money was designated to fund a treatment that's the first of its kind in the region.

“It was aggressive yeah on a scale of two to 10, mine was an eight,” Mike Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy is talking about his prostate cancer, and happily, in the past tense.

“I have a condition called N.E.D. which stands for No Evidence of Disease,” he said.

He's had N.E.D. for seven years. It's his favorite diagnosis. And he credits PBT or Proton Beam Therapy for his health status.

“It's the only prostate cancer treatment that has a fan club, and there is actually a fan club for proton radiation therapy,” Mulcahy said.

Mulcahy said treatment was fast and painless -- two things you don`t often hear about cancer treatment.

“There was no pain. There was no fatigue during the treatment,” he said.  “They'd zap ya for about two to three minutes, and then you`d be done.”

But Mulcahy had to go to Oklahoma to get PBT. He wanted to go to KU Hospital, but it wasn't available.

That's all changing.

KU Hospital is installing a $50 million-plus proton therapy machine to be available to patients in the metro. It'll be the only one in the region. The next closest machines will be in Oklahoma or St. Louis.

“We are going to be the first proton therapy center in the state of Kansas, and in this region, if you look at a map and draw a straight line west, you don`t run into another proton therapy center until California," Dr. Shane Stecklein said.

The radiation oncologist said this is a great tool in the toolbox of cancer fighting. Proton therapy is a form of radiation, but it`s more targeted therapy.

“Proton therapy is a newer form of radiation that uses charged particles to damage and kill cancer cells,” Stecklein said.

While the results are promising for many patients, like Mulcahy, it`s not always perfect.

“There is some data that suggests proton therapy is better compared to conventional radiation therapy for the treatment of prostate cancer there are also some data that says it`s not better and potentially worse in some cases,” Stecklein said.

The one thing Stecklein said is a definite advantage is the lack of side effects on normal tissue.

“That really is where proton therapy has the potential to shine -- in reducing long term side effects from radiation therapy,” he said.

That's especially helpful for pediatric cancer patients who often end up with severe side effects from radiation.

“Sometimes the late side effects of radiation can take years or decades to become apparent, and for that reason, reducing or eliminating dose to normal tissues in pediatric patients has the most potential to reduce radiation associated toxicity," Stecklein said.

And that could prevent future cancers from forming, meaning the treatment has a lower risk of making you sick again.

To find out more about this machine and the University of Kansas Cancer Center, click or tap here. To find out more about their PBT machine, click or tap here.

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