There wasn’t any public observance on Sunday, but if everyone who’s been treated at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute since the day it opened had shown up for the 10th anniversary celebration, they would have needed enough cake and punch for 6,400 people.
That’s how many patients have received some of the most advanced radiation cancer treatment available in the world since Aug. 14, 2006.
Over the past 10 years, the facility has expanded its focus from treating only a few cases of prostate cancer to providing 215,000 treatments for more than 20 types of cancer.
“We have a much broader case mix now,” said Stuart Klein, who has been the institute’s executive director for 11 years.
“Now we’re at the forefront in treating lung and breast cancer,” he added.
When the UF Health proton facility opened it was one of only five in the U.S.
Today, there are 23, Klein said.
Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment that uses protons instead of traditional X-rays.
It targets cancer cells and tumors more precisely, with less damage to surrounding tissue and fewer short- and long-term side effects.
Over the decade, the institute has achieved milestones, including in 2008 becoming the first proton facility to treat 100 patients per day. Two years later, UF Health joined the Top 10 proton facilities among 75 in the world in number of patients.
In 2012, it was recognized as the No. 1 facility for treating pediatric cancers and in 2015 was named a Florida Cancer Center of Excellence.
The institute has grown into a staff of 165 radiation oncologists, nurses, technical experts and other employees who work together to provide treatments 16 hours a day, five days a week.
The beginning of the institute’s second decade is devoted to expansion.
A 10,000-square-foot, $39 million expansion of the facility is under construction and is scheduled to open in 2019.
The addition will include a fifth treatment room equipped with pencil-beam scanning, the most advanced and precise proton therapy available.
It also will increase the facility’s patient capacity by about 25 percent, but Klein said there will remain more demand than supply. It will, however, expand the types of cancer that may be treated.
“It will open up some disease types, including head and neck cancer and some rare cancers,” Klein said. “But unfortunately, we’re not going to run out of patients.”
In addition to the positive impact the facility has had on those with cancer, Klein cites the economic impact from the staff — and the patients and their families who accompany them to the facility.
More than 60 percent of the nearly 750 patients treated annually live at least 60 miles from Jacksonville, which makes it difficult to commute for therapy.
They arrange for lodging and transportation and purchase food during the six- to eight-week daily treatment regimen and spend at least $5,000 per patient in the local economy, said Klein.
“It’s a real gem for Jacksonville and we plan to be here for a long time,” he said.