Treating cancer is ‘like a nerdy math game,’ says University of Florida professor
From left, Rotary Club of Jacksonville member Madison Shelly and Dr. Charles Nichols Jr., associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.
In a room full of non-medical professionals, Dr. Charles Nichols Jr. found a simple way to describe modern cancer treatment.

"It's like a nerdy math game. It's like Sudoku on steroids," said Nichols, an associate professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.

A mathematics major at Georgetown University, Nichols said modern cancer treatment is based on mathematical optimization algorithms.

Nichols spoke Monday to the Rotary Club of Jacksonville at the Omni Downtown.

Radiant therapy hinders the ability of cancer cells to divide and spread.

"Radiation works as a cancer treatment because normal cells have the ability to repair radiation damage better than cancer cells," said Nichols.

Radiation therapy for cancer came into use in the United States in the 1960s. Technological developments have led to more patients being treated successfully, particularly with proton therapy for cancers.

"The essence of what we've been doing over the last several decades of radiation therapy is simply finding ways to increase the radiation dose to the tumor while minimizing the dose to critical normal cells. It doesn't get any fancier than that," Nichols said.

Proton therapy for cancer involves delivering a high level of radiation to a tumor, but in such a way that the level does not damage healthy tissue around the tumor.

"The entry dose is low. The highest dose is at the depth of the tumor target and there is no dose beyond the target," said Nichols.

The institute treats cancers of the head and neck, base of the skull, eye, lung, pancreas and prostate, as well as pediatric cancers.

Nichols said the institute has a contract with the National Health Service in England to treat British pediatric cancer patients and another contract to treat patients from St. Jude's Children's Hospital.

"It's a vote of confidence," he said.

He said based on years of clinical data and patient follow-up, proton therapy has a higher cure rate than other cancer treatments, including surgery and chemotherapy, with few side effects.

Nichols said that level of success has led to there being 11 proton therapy facilities in operation worldwide, with another 10 centers either under construction or planned.

"I think proton therapy is the future of radiotherapy," he said.


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Omni hosts bake sale for MDA
From left, Nija Mayberry and Julie Fischer took some time off Monday from their jobs at the Omni Hotel to set up a bake sale to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. In addition to baked goods from the hotel’s kitchen, chocolate from Sweet Pete’s and cookies and cake from the On the Fly food truck also were donated. The all-day bake sale raised funds for the charity ahead of the 48th annual MDA Labor Day telethon on Sunday.
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