New therapy chance at quality life
By Lara Krupicka For The Sun March 18, 2013 6:08PM
Gloria De La Cruz and her sons, Peter (left) and Victor (right). | Submitted
Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells by damaging their DNA.
Radiation therapy can damage normal cells as well as cancer cells. Therefore, treatment must be carefully planned to minimize side effects.
Proton therapy was first used in clinical treatment in 1990 at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California.
Source: National Cancer Institute and The National Association for Proton Therapy
Updated: April 21, 2013 6:10AM
Gloria De La Cruz chooses to take a “glass-half-full” view of life, even though she only has half of her vision to do so. She also has been through two cancer diagnoses in the past seven months.
Thanks to proton therapy, she might have good reason for her positive outlook.
The 52-year-old Naperville resident lost her left eye last August when doctors discovered a cancerous tumor growing on it. In spite of the loss, De La Cruz was happy to be cancer free without having to endure any other treatments.
“It was traumatic. It was painful. But I dealt with it,” De La Cruz says. “I was very fortunate to still have an eye left.”
But a month and a half later, she was back at the doctor for pain in her side. This time the diagnosis was cancer deep in the tissues surrounding her liver. There were few treatment options that wouldn’t put her liver and other organs, at serious risk. That’s when Dr. John Chang, director of clinical research at CDH Proton Center, offered a new solution: proton therapy radiation.
Unlike regular photon-beam radiation (using X-rays or gamma rays), which leave radiation all along the beam’s path, proton beams deposit radiation primarily at the end of the beam’s path. This allows radiologists to target cancer cells deeper in the body, with less resulting radiation in the surrounding tissues. And with also fewer potential side effects.
“Proton therapy is most beneficial in patients who have tumors close to critical structures: the brain, the head and neck area, abdominal area or lung cancer. Or tumors that are deeply seated in the body,” Chang says.
De La Cruz was the perfect candidate. And fortunately for her, one of the 11 existing proton therapy centers in the United States wasn’t far from home, at the ProCure Center, in Warrenville.
For six-and-a-half weeks, Monday through Friday, De La Cruz visited the center for a 60- to 90-minute radiation treatment. Radiologists would help her into a specially formed foam bed that held De La Cruz’s body in the same position each time to direct the radiation to the cancer cells alone.
While she couldn’t feel the radiation itself, holding the raised-arm position was at times excruciating.
“The best thing was when my son taught me how to meditate,” she explains. “It helped me to lay still that whole time.”
Once De La Cruz concentrated on her mental state before and during treatment, she found the pain disappeared.
And the side effects of treatment were relatively small, considering she was taking oral chemotherapy doses at the same time. De La Cruz suffered from constant nausea and fatigue but not much else.
“People treated in the past with standard radiation were much sicker,” Chang notes. “She has done tremendously well. I expect her to recover quickly and fully from side effects.”
After recuperating from surgery to remove a lymph node before radiation, De La Cruz was able to work a few hours each day while undergoing radiation. And now, having completed radiation, the single mom of two teenaged boys is back to work full time.
Chang explains how this reflects the biggest advantage of proton therapy. “Patients can go after a cure while maintaining their quality of life.”
De La Cruz is grateful for help from friends during the past weeks. And she marvels over how her sons pitched in to keep the household running. But she also sees how this newer treatment made a difference too, particularly given the location and aggressiveness of her cancer.
“Proton therapy is the most amazing thing,” she says. “My chances are so much better because of it.”