New proton beam therapy coming to KU Health System


KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The University of Kansas Health System is getting closer to offering proton beam therapy. It’s a cutting-edge version of radiation treatment, and it fills a donut hole in the central part of the country without the technology. 

Walking inside the under-construction building, it’s clear that while there’s still a lot of work to do — it has come a long way.

Proton therapy is a specialized cancer treatment with targeted precision, attacking the cancer cells while sparing the organs and nearby tissue that traditional radiation therapy can damage. 

“It’s definitely an exciting moment,” Dr. Ronny Rotondo with the University of Kansas Health System said.

Much of the equipment being shipped in will be placed in the large center of the building. The biggest pieces on the way are a cyclotron and gantry.

“The cyclotron is actually the machine that’s going to generate the proton particles to treat patients. The way it works is the machine breaks down water molecules to create the proton particles. A little bit of chemistry, a little bit of physics. Pretty cool,” said Dr. Ronald Chen, a chair with the Department of Radiation Oncology.

The gantry is a large piece of equipment that rotates around the patient.

“Together the equipment is going to weigh more than a 757 Boeing plane,” Chen said.

Treatment like this hasn’t been available in much of the Midwest. Some people travel for hundreds of miles for treatment.

“It’s a great feeling and I think when we look at the region — there are no current centers available in Nebraska, Iowa, Colorado, and Arkansas. This is an incredible resource not only for Kansas, but for the entire region. To be able to offer the most state-of-the-art radiation therapy without having to travel long distances,” Rotondo said.

The health system is still about a year away from offering the therapy. Doctors hope offering it here will help patients, especially children, be comfortable at home during treatment. 

When the KU Cancer Center’s proton therapy unit opens, it will join 34 other centers around the country providing the treatment. The cancer center is currently a national cancer institute designated center, seeking the next level, comprehensive NCI designation.

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