Loma Linda using Lethal Radiation on Cancer Patients
Cutting-Edge Cancer Treatment Center Improves Health of Thousands
Loma Linda, California, United States .... [Wendi Rogers/ANN]
"Source: Adventist News Network"
When Bob Marckini got a phone call in August 2000 saying he had
prostate cancer, he thought it was the lowest point in his life. He did
what many do in that situation -- he did research, spoke with numerous
doctors, and tried to decide the best way to deal with the problem.
He also spoke with former patients who had undergone a variety of
treatments such as surgery, brachytherapy (seeds), conventional
radiation and proton therapy. "Of all those with whom I spoke, it was
the proton patients who were most enthusiastic -- bordering on ecstatic
-- about their treatment. I interviewed 56 of them. And they confirmed
what I heard from the first one. No pain, non-invasive, and
minimal-to-no side effects."
Marckini's reflections come from a presentation at Hampton University
in Virginia in August 2005 where he encouraged that university to
approve a proposal to establish a proton therapy center.
Marckini chose to get proton therapy at the Loma Linda University
Proton Treatment Center. Just over a year ago, the Center saw its
10,000th patient. Now the numbers are above 11,000. Why do they come
here? "One of the major reasons people initially came here was to try
and get away from the detrimental side effects that we see with other
forms of radiation," says Jerry D. Slater, M.D., chair and professor of
the Department of Radiation Medicine at Loma Linda University Medical
He explains that proton treatment is a form of radiation that differs
from conventional radiation in which x-rays are used. "The biggest
difference is we can control inside the patient where most of the
radiation is given off. We can actually start where the protons give
off most of the radiation and stop them inside the patient. With more
conventional x-rays, you cannot control them when a beam comes in." In
other words, proton therapy treats cancerous tumors without harming
surrounding healthy tissue.
Proton therapy has become one of the standard treatments for carcinoma
of the prostate, reports a recent Proton Treatment Center Newsletter, a
publication from Loma Linda University. "Radiation oncologists at Loma
Linda University Medical Center have played a major part in
establishing that role. They did so by treating many patients and
following them for many years; the resulting clinical research has
shown that proton radiation treatment yields control rates equal to
other radiation and surgical modalities, and does so at a much reduced
cost in side effects and long-term problems related to treatment," the
Cancers of the head and neck are often treated at the Center, and
improvements are being instituted that will allow those suffering from
breast cancer and non-small-cell lung cancer to be treated with
protons. But the largest percentage of those treated are for prostate
Between 1990, when the Proton Treatment Center began, and January 2005,
nearly 30 percent of all patients treated with proton therapy did so at
Loma Linda University Medical Center. The Center has become a model for
worldwide training and research.
In response to a question on whether the Center has received any
negative comments, Dr. Slater says, "There's always opposition to
anything new and cutting edge as far as I'm concerned. From the get-go
there was always the concern, 'would it work? ... Would it bankrupt the
institution?'" In the medical field, he says, "physicians are natural
skeptics. If we don't know about it then it can't be that good. The
biggest challenge has been educating not only patients, but the medical
community [which] is by far the biggest challenge we've had.
"The ultimate vindication for that is people are copying what we're
doing. You don't copy failures."
"I have experienced no permanent side effects. The quality of my life
hasn't changed one bit. I couldn't have asked for better results," says
Marckini met many other proton treatment patients, and he and his new
friends decided to keep in touch, "compare notes as we continued our
healing journey," and maintain their connection to Loma Linda
University by organizing a group called "The Brotherhood of the
Balloon." He says, "The word of our group's formation leaked out,
others asked to join, and we grew larger." They now have 2,300 members
in all 50 states and 19 countries.
The group has also referred more than 1,200 patients to Loma Linda
University and raised more than U.S. $2.5 million for proton therapy
On the 15th anniversary of the Proton Treatment Center in 2005, the
Brotherhood of the Balloon presented a book of 100 testimonials to the
Center's developer, Dr. James M. Slater, father of Dr. Jerry D. Slater.
"Every six months we prostate cancer patients go through a little
ritual," he told the doctor. "We have our blood drawn and have our PSA
measured. And, every six months when I get my results, I say two
things: 'Thank you Lord.' And, 'Thank you Dr. Slater.' And I know there
are a few thousand other prostate cancer patients out there who are
saying the same thing."
The Proton Treatment Center helps Loma Linda University, which
celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2005, fulfill its mission of
service. "It's just a unique thing, letting people know more about Loma
Linda, what its mission is, what it's trying to do," Dr. Slater says.
"I think from an exposure point of view, it's been quite remarkable for
it. I think once patients get here it also allows them to see what we
do and how that really is what it's all about -- what this place is all
about -- how we deal with people, how we're different from other
institutions in what we do, not just in the technology, but also in
just the human level."
Dr. Slater says he believes that within a couple of decades there could
be 25 to 50 proton treatment centers in the United States alone. He
reflects on the Center's past: "When we started it was just us in a
hospital environment. Now you have three [such centers in the United
States], and two more scheduled to open this year. There's probably a
half dozen or more in the planning stage. And they're all using what
we've done as the model."
He explains that his father, Dr. James M. Slater, M.D., had a dream
when he came to Loma Linda University in 1970. "This has kind of been a
pet project of his for over 30 years. He had training initially as a
physicist and went into medicine after that." He realized, Dr. Slater
explains, that protons could alleviate many of the side effects
patients get with radiation. "Ultimately in 1986 he got the go-ahead to
actually do it. ...I went to Boston and spent a year learning
everything I could about proton therapy to come back here and take it
My father "deals primarily with the technology side and I do the
clinical side. It works out very well," Dr. Slater explains.
Howard J. Tuggey, a retired colonel in the United States Army, says,
"Based on my personal experience at Loma Linda's Proton Treatment
Center and that of many others I have met, [I believe] it is by far the
new gold standard without the unpleasant side effects often mentioned
in articles on radiation or surgery." He adds that complete confidence
in the treatment has taken "all the stress out of my life.
"I cannot express how much I appreciate my doctor and case manager at
Loma Linda, as well as the caring staff of true professionals. In my
book, they are the best in the business. I hope the other centers
coming ... are as good."