100th Patient Treated with Proton Therapy at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Physicians and hospital staff are celebrating the first 100 patients treated at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Proton Therapy Center, the first and only center of its kind in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Proton therapy is the latest cancer-fighting technology designed to shrink some previously untreatable tumors.

MedStar Georgetown providers with Proton therapy some patientsThe proton therapy system used by radiation oncologists at MedStar Georgetown is the most advanced cancer treatment technology currently available. Using pencil beam scanning (PBS) and HYPERSCAN™ technology, physicians can precisely target tumors anywhere in the body with minimal exposure to healthy tissues. This is especially beneficial for younger patients, who have a higher likelihood of living many years after their cancer has been cured.

“With conventional radiation, when we aim at a target, there’s full dose radiation in front of the target and full dose radiation beyond the target. With the protons, they can stop in the center of the tumor,” says Brian Collins, MD, clinical director of the Proton Therapy Center.

“There are certain types of cancer where you have to deliver a very high dose of radiation right next to a critical structure like the spinal cord or brainstem,” says Radiation Oncologist Sonali Rudra, MD, “So, for some patients, proton therapy might be their only radiation treatment option.”

MedStar Georgtown's 100th Proton Therapy PatientThe center’s 100th patient, Kathleen Norris of Lexington Park, Maryland, began receiving proton therapy treatments in April for her inoperable lung cancer. Proton therapy helps Norris’ care team avoid targeting critical nearby organs, like the heart, that may be damaged by conventional x-ray radiation. Norris says she’s thankful for the opportunity to fight her cancer battle with cutting-edge tools never-before available in her area.

“This proton is so advanced.  It was able to hit my cancer without damaging my other tissues and it could avoid my heart.  I’m so glad.  The tumor has already shrunk by forty percent,” Norris said. “I’ve done really well. I’ve been very lucky.”

In March 2018, Martha Ramos, a mother of two from Germantown, Maryland, became the first patient treated by doctors at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Proton Therapy Center. Before treatment, Ramos underwent multiple operations to remove a non-cancerous recurring brain tumor. Some cells deep in the brain could not be removed in surgery. Proton therapy eradicated those remaining cells and preserved her quality of life.

“I want to have more time to be a mom to my children. I want to be very healthy so I can be there for them and help them in life,” Ramos said after treatment. “I am very, very grateful that my medical team at MedStar Georgetown told me about proton therapy. I now look forward to a long and happy life.”

Since proton therapy was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1988, over 75,000 patients have been treated at only about 30 centers across the United States. Now, patients have access to this state-of-the-art technology in Washington D.C.

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Prostate Cancer Patient Does His Research and Chooses Proton Therapy to Treat His Aggressive Disease

Dr.-Lischalk-with-Denwiddie(Washington, D.C.)  When Melvin Denwiddie, 73 was diagnosed with prostate cancer in late 2016 his physicians first told him the “watch and wait” strategy would be sufficient.  But in 2017 further testing showed that his cancer had become more aggressive and it was time to get treated.

“My prostate cancer was potentially fatal if I didn’t start treatment,” says Denwiddie. “My choices were surgery to remove the prostate, traditional radiation or proton radiation,” says the great-grandfather of three. “I did my research and I wanted proton therapy.  I found that proton therapy would be the most accurate; it would follow the shape of my tumor and would penetrate only the tumor and not any of the tissue outside of the tumor.  That was very important to me.”

That’s when he found proton therapy at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and his radiation oncologist, Jonathan Lischalk, MD.

“It’s important to sit down with patients and discuss their treatment options,” says Dr. Lischalk. “For localized prostate cancer, a variety of treatment options exist including surgery and radiation therapy.  Even within radiation therapy, many options exist including proton therapy, x-ray-based therapy, and brachytherapy.  Helping a patient understand his treatment options, the related side effects, and the clinical outcomes is extremely important.”

The proton therapy system at MedStar Georgetown is the first and only in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and is the first in the world to offer proton therapy with HYPERSCAN™ technology. HYPERSCAN produces beams that are sharper than other proton systems and treats patients faster.

Denwiddie received 43 proton treatments over the course of July through September 2018.

“From my standpoint, proton therapy is a very good treatment process. It was not invasive, it wasn’t painful and I experienced very few side effects,” says Denwiddie.  “Aside from my bladder becoming overactive, it was a pretty easy treatment from beginning to end.  And any side effects I had are getting better.”

With proton therapy complete, Denwiddie continues with hormone treatments for his prostate cancer under the care of his urology team at MedStar Georgetown.

Denwiddie with Dr. Lischalk in an exam room
Melvin Denwiddie (left) and Dr. Lischalk (right)

“Proton therapy is proving to be an excellent option for prostate cancer treatment,” say Ryan Hankins, MD, a urologist at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. “From a urology standpoint, I am able to use a small needle through the skin to place the needed fiducial markers and gel spacer to help improve patient outcomes and make proton therapy more precise. This is done with no incisions on the skin. Dr. Lischalk and I also coordinate patient visits to help make the patient's visit to MedStar Georgetown as seamless as possible.”

Denwiddie is a retired accountant for NASA but continues to prepare tax returns and represent clients before the Internal Revenue Service. “It’s a labor of love I’ve been practicing since 1972.  It’s such a pleasure to know that I can continue to help people when they need it in this way.”

With his wife of more than 50 years newly retired and his prostate cancer treated, Denwiddie looks to the future with optimism and excitement.

“I feel confident that this prostate cancer is a thing of the past. The rest of my life, I’m looking forward to enjoying the freedom and flexibility to move around and travel with my wife.  That includes visiting family and places I haven’t had the opportunity to see yet. I’m very excited about my future.”

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Marianne Worley
Director of Media Relations
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Brendan McNamara 
Media Relations Specialist
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