Miami Cancer Institute Celebrates Proton Therapy Milestone


On Saturday, December 7th, more than 300 peoplegathered at Miami CancerInstitute to mark a major milestone for the world-renowned cancer center,as its proton therapy program recently completed treating its 500thpatient.

(Watch now: The Baptist Health News Team speaks with Minesh Mehta, M.D., Deputy Director and Chief of Radiation Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, about the 500th Patient Celebration for the Institute’s Proton Therapy Program. Video by George Carvalho.)

Joined by their families and physicians, patients past andpresent heard heart-felt testimonials from several cancer survivors who havebenefited from protontherapy since it was introduced at Miami Cancer Institute two years ago.They also heard from Minesh Mehta, M.D., deputydirector and chief of radiation oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, which ispart of Baptist Health South Florida.

Minesh Mehta, M.D., Deputy Director and Chief of Radiation Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, speaks at the 500th Patient Celebration for the Institute’s Proton Therapy program.

“On November 27, 2017, we treated our very first patientwith proton therapy in this, the first proton therapy center in South Florida,”said Dr.Mehta, who has been with Miami Cancer Institute since its founding in 2016.“Just two years later, we’ve crossed the threshold of 500 patients, and that’swhat we’re here to celebrate.”

Olga Alarcon Cruz, 31, the mother of two children, ages fiveand two, holds the distinction of being Miami Cancer Institute’s 500thproton therapy patient. She came to the Institute last year after beingdiagnosed with cancer in her right breast. “Here is the best cancer treatmentin the world,” Ms. Alarcon Cruz told guests. “The people here are amazing and Ijust want to say, ‘Thank you!’”

Dr. Mehta saidthat since it opened its doors, Miami Cancer Institute has cared for a largenumber of patients whose treatments are very complicated. With the addition ofthe proton therapy program in 2017, the Institute became the only cancer centerin the world with every radiation therapy available under one roof.

“The number 500,in and of itself, doesn’t really mean much,” Dr. Mehta noted. “It does,however, reflect the fact that there is an extremely qualified team here thatmakes it possible to take care of such a large number of patients in such aneffective manner.”

Hundreds of cancer survivors, including Reverend Isaiah Alfred Bazile, Olga Alarcon Cruz, Brianya Evans and Richard Cole, gathered with their families and physicians to celebrate a major milestone for Miami Cancer Institute’s Proton Therapy Program

Breast cancer patients such as Olga often require radiation not just to the breast but also to lymph nodes that surround the breast. Conventional radiation therapies can damage surrounding tissues and organs – including the heart, if it’s the left breast being treated. Proton therapy, however, allows doctors to deliver extremely precise doses to the tumor itself without damaging other healthy tissues and organs.

“Because protontherapy allows us to target tumors so precisely, and spare the healthy tissuesurrounding the tumor, it has become one of our most effective weapons againstcancer,” Dr. Mehta said. “Here at Miami Cancer Institute, we use proton therapyto treat many types of cancer, including lung cancer, prostate cancer,breast cancer, cancer of the esophagus, liver cancer, cancers of bone and skin,brain tumors, skull base tumors, sarcomas, lymphomas…the list goes on and on.”

Proton therapy isalso useful for treating tumors where large volumes of tissue must be radiated,he said, as well as tumors that have previously been treated with radiation andhave subsequently reoccurred and need more radiation.

Pediatric cancersare also a prime target for proton therapy. According to Dr. Mehta, childrenwho receive radiation therapy experience significant, lifelong effects fromconventional radiation. Therefore, reducing exposure of normal tissues toradiation is especially important when treating children, he says, and this isone of the major benefits of proton therapy.

Miami CancerInstitute was founded with the vision that patients from South Florida wouldnot need to leave the area to seek advanced care anywhere else in the country.More than 90 percent of the Institute’s patients are from Florida, but Dr.Mehta says the Institute has treated a substantial number of patients fromaround the country and across the globe.

Dr. Mehta is excited about new therapies and technologies that will undoubtedly help Miami Cancer Institute save even more lives. But for this particular day, he was content to step back and take measure of just how far they’ve come in the fight against cancer. “Saturday was a very emotional day for everyone,” Dr. Mehta said later. “There were lots of hugs and some tears of joy, there was celebration and camaraderie, and there also was the recognition that everyone there had become a family of sorts. Seeing that is so rewarding for me and my colleagues here at Miami Cancer Institute. It energizes all of us to move forward with even greater focus and determination.”

Radiation Oncologist Maria-Amelia Rodriguez, M.D., with Dr. Mehta and Baptist Health Foundation CEO Alex Villoch

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