Retired physicist benefits from proton therapy

SCCA, Proton Therapy Center

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John Albers spent his career in the nuclear industry. When he was diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer in his salivary gland, the retired nuclear power reactor health physicist was uniquely aware that he needed to research proton therapy treatment as an alternative to traditional radiation therapy.

Proton therapy enables physicians to specifically target tumors in sensitive places in the body, with less risk of damaging surrounding organs and tissue. It is also fast, noninvasive, painless and produces far fewer side-effects than traditional radiation therapy.

After considering the two other proton therapy centers located on the West Coast, the Richland, Washington resident chose to travel to Seattle for treatment at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, Proton Therapy Center located at Northwest Hospital. As the first proton center in the Northwest, it brings together the expertise from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s.

Dr. George Laramore, a UW Medicine radiation oncologist, specializes in treating patients for salivary gland tumors, head and neck cancer, sarcomas and prostate cancer and he is John’s radiation oncologist.

“I really got along with Dr. Laramore and could see right away that he knew his stuff,” says Albers. “After a career in nuclear science, I had the advantage of knowing how protons interact with human tissue. In addition to his M.D., Dr. Laramore has a Ph.D. in physics, so we had spirited talks on the details of protons interactions.”

Protons destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA when the beams reach the center of a cell, energy is transferred to the cell’s electrons, harming the DNA. Cancer cells with DNA that is damaged beyond repair can no longer divide—and therefore die. The cells are then broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural processes.

John’s treatment regimen included 33 visits over a seven week period. He went Monday through Friday and he estimates the actual time it took was around 15 minutes per session. “It was actually enjoyable to go in. I had zero side-effects, no pain and no negative impact on my daily life,” he says. “The only long term effect is a small bald area on my face where I received treatments. But, hey, now it only takes me half the time to shave in the morning. That’s a side effect I can live with.”

John will be cancer free for two years this November and is looking forward to what he hopes will be his final follow-up visit with Dr. Laramore this fall. He has talked with many people about his experience and urges them to investigate whether proton therapy is an option that will work for them.

“As someone who spent decades playing around with atoms I tell people if it’s an option, I strongly urge you to consider it.”

For more information about the SCCA, Proton Therapy Center please visit sccaprotontherapy.com.

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