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Professor Barbara Bachtiary
Specialist for Radiotherapy and Internal Medicine, Rinecker Proton Therapy Centre (RPTC)
Irradiating tumours using proton beams is a highly advanced form of cancer treatment that offers greater control and minimal damage to surrounding tissue. The Rinecker Proton Therapy Centre (RPTC) was opened in Munich three years ago and is the first and currently the only proton radiation centre in Europe to offer a complete hospital setting. Since it opened, the clinic has treated more than 1,300 patients from over 40 countries. The fact that 75 different types of tumour have already been treated proves the broad range of applications of modern proton therapy.
Germany’s first proton therapy centre to offer a hospital setting
In 1999 a team of doctors, radiotherapists and medical physicists brought a great project to fruition. Today the RPTC has four treatment units offering optimal scanning techniques for three-dimensional proton therapy. A fifth unit with a fixed-beam system for treating tumours of the eye and certain tumours in the head will soon be available for clinical applications.
The advantage: precise targeting of the radiation dose with minimal damage to surrounding tissue
Dr Hans Rinecker, who chairs the supervisory board of the operating company PROHEALTH AG, describes the RPTC as a flagship project for highly effective cancer treatment that has particular health advantages for the patient. On the one hand, the more targeted concentration of the radiation dose in proton therapy compared with conventional x-ray radiotherapy greatly improves the prognosis. And on the other, the effects of radiation on the surrounding tissue can be reduced by up to a third and the duration of the treatment can be significantly shortened.
Proton therapy on the rise worldwide
This technique, which has been successfully practised in the USA since 1991, is widely acknowledged as a major step forward in cancer treatment. New centres are being planned and built worldwide, including two by the Mayo Clinic, a leading international health care provider in the USA. Delivering cutting-edge medical care, particularly when it requires a high level of investment, calls for a great deal of commitment. “As with any other technological advancement, we have opened up new dimensions in treatment with Europe’s first proton therapy centre, overcoming a great deal of initial resistance in the process,” says Dr Rinecker. The documented success of the cancer treatment and the benefits for patients are now becoming accepted not only by the medical profession but also by health insurers. The 1,000th patient, for example, who was treated in March this year, had statutory health insurance.
There are many important factors to consider when using radiation to treat tumour tissue, which is why the therapy is carried out by a highly experienced team of radiotherapists, medical physicists and radiology technicians. One of the most important criteria for effective radiotherapy is to target the tumour tissue as precisely as possible whilst minimising the impact on the surrounding healthy tissue. Proton therapy is a form of radiation treatment which exactly meets this requirement – it precisely targets diseased tissue and causes minimal damage to healthy tissue.
All forms of tumour treatable by radiotherapy can be targeted with proton therapy. Because of the minimal impact on the surrounding tissue, it is especially suitable for treating tumours surrounded by sensitive organs and tissue (e.g. pancreatic carcinomas, brain tumours and tumours of the spine).
The RPTC in Munich treats patients from Munich, from all over Germany and from around the world. With their high-level medical expertise complemented by a great deal of compassion and care, the RPTC team takes into account the personal circumstances of each individual patient whose tumour is suitable for treatment by proton therapy. All patients are treated with the utmost respect – irrespective, for example, of whether a German patient has statutory or private insurance or where an international patient comes from. The team at the RPTC endeavours to give more than 100 per cent in every case.