‘Unrivaled’ cancer proton therapy facility headed to UT Health San Antonio, one of 40 in U.S.

Therapy targets tumors without harming surrounding tissue, boosts survival rates

SAN ANTONIO - – Proton therapy is an advanced cancer radiation technique that better targets tumors without harming the tissue around them.

The facilities are expensive and complex but within two years, South Texas will have one at a brand new UT Health San Antonio facility.

For patients with cancerous tumors next to vital organs or tissue, general radiation can be dangerous and many times, too risky.

“Standard radiation, what we call ‘gamma radiation,’ enters and exits the body. It deposits its radiation dose across that entire pathway from the time it breaks skin to the time it exits on the other side,” explained UT Health San Antonio the Mays Cancer Center Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mark Bonnen.

That type of radiation delivery damages otherwise healthy surrounding tissue.

Proton therapy, however, spares that extra tissue.

“Protons have some unique properties that allow us to be more precise in what we do, deliver higher doses to the target or the tumor, and give less dose to those surrounding tissues,” Dr. Bonnen said. “It’s just unrivaled by any other type of radiation.”

Dr. Bonnen is thrilled to announce they will break ground this summer on a new proton therapy facility on Floyd Curl Drive in the medical center near the Mays Cancer Center.

With a $65 million price tag and a complex design to fit the three-story cyclotron machine that performs the therapy, the facility is rare. It will be one of just 40 in the U.S..

“The other facilities in Texas are in Houston and Dallas and generally radiation treatments like proton therapy run average, Monday through Friday for six weeks, so if you require or benefit from proton therapy and you live in San Antonio, you’re going to basically have to relocate for a month and a half,” Bonnen said.

The new facility will allow local cancer patients who qualify to stay home while they get the state-of-the-art treatment.

“It’s about 10-15% of all general radiation patients that will benefit from proton therapy,” Bonnen said.

The most common patients are children since radiation on any growing normal tissue is detrimental. However, proton therapy is also used for brain, head, neck, lung, and prostate cancers.

It’s a scarce resource that people like Bonnen are excited to be bringing to San Antonio and South Texas patients.

Crews are expected to break ground on the new facility at the end of the summer. UT Health San Antonio hopes to treat their first proton therapy patient in September of 2023.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.