PHILADELPHIA | MARLTON – Cancer care in South Jersey is about to enter a new era. Penn Medicine, in partnership with Virtua, announced plans to build a new proton facility on the campus of Virtua’s acute care hospital, Virtua Voorhees. The new $35 million center, which will allow cancer patients to undergo cutting edge proton therapy in single-room treatments, is expected to be completed by 2020. It will be the first and only proton therapy center in South Jersey.
“Penn has established itself as a global leader in proton therapy both for the treatment of patients and the training of other medical professionals, and now we’re excited to spread that expertise to residents of South Jersey,” said Ralph Muller, CEO of the University of Pennsylvania Health System. “In partnership with Virtua, this center will usher in a new era of cancer treatment in South Jersey and give patients access to cutting edge care without having to come to Pennsylvania.”
Proton therapy has a few key differences from traditional radiation. Traditional therapy uses x-rays, which are a form of photon radiation. The rays go into the body from one side and come out the other, touching more than just the cancer cells and potentially damaging healthy tissue along the way. The proton beam is positively charged and enters the body at a low dose of radiation. When it hits the cancer it’s targeting, the dosage increases. The beam then stops, preventing the radiation from moving through healthy tissue and exiting the other side of the body. This allows healthy tissue to be spared, while maximizing the chances of attacking cancer cells.
Penn Medicine is a global leader in proton therapy. Penn radiation oncologists have treated almost 4,500 patients since the Roberts Proton Therapy Center first opened in 2010, and have trained more than 500 medical professionals from across the world, many of whom attend an annual three-day course hosted at Penn. That course helps train doctors and health care leaders to learn about best practices in the use of this emerging technology as they establish new proton centers around the world. Clinical trials in the Roberts Proton Therapy Center have mapped new treatments for pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors, pancreatic cancer, lung cancer and many other diseases which are otherwise difficult to treat with radiation. Now that global expertise will bring state-of-the-science proton therapy to the South Jersey community.
“Currently, patients who may benefit from proton therapy – especially for hard-to-treat cancers – can only receive this therapy at a handful of specialized centers across the country,” said James M. Metz, MD, chair of Radiation Oncology at Penn. “This project represents the next phase of proton therapy, in which these treatment facilities will spread into the community to make it easier for patients to get access, and Penn is proud to once again lead the way.”
Virtua is proud to provide the first location in South Jersey to offer this life-changing therapy to cancer patients, alongside the full range of conventional radiation treatments that are part of its cancer programs.
“This highly sophisticated cancer treatment will be available to South Jersey residents as a result of the strong partnership between Virtua and Penn Medicine,” said Dennis W. Pullin, FACHE, Virtua President and CEO. “The outstanding value for our patients is that they will receive advanced cancer care close to home and family, with radiation treatment plans developed by Penn’s radiation oncologists.”
From evaluation to treatment, patients will be able to get everything they need at the new facility, including access to clinical trials involving proton therapy. The aspect of care that will remain centered at Penn Medicine is the treatment planning phase, which will be done virtually, providing patients with access to Penn’s expertise without having to come into Philadelphia for their appointments.
“We have almost a decade of experience in this field that we will continue to lean on, and keeping the treatment planning centralized will ensure that all of that expertise moves seamlessly into the community,” Metz said. “For patients, it will be the same experience they would get on Penn’s campus.”
The Penn Medicine/Virtua strategic alliance creates easier access to advanced specialty care by growing programs in South Jersey supported by both organizations. With an understanding that patients want to be close to home and family when dealing with serious illnesses, this partnership provides the best plan of care that incorporates facilities in both health systems. Virtua continues to explore collaboration opportunities with Penn Medicine to strengthen and support Virtua’s delivery of specialty care. The alliance reduces duplication of resources, increases efficiency, and enhances convenience for patients and families. It fosters relationships among the medical professionals of both organizations, ensuring delivery of care in the appropriate setting, eliminating gaps in care and improving access to specialty services.
Penn and Virtua leaders have referred to the new proton facility as Project Olympus, a reference to the fact that as they face the mountainous challenges of bringing proton therapy into the community for the first time, they make the climb together.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $7.8 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $425 million awarded in the 2018 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Home Care and Hospice Services, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 40,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2018, Penn Medicine provided more than $525 million to benefit our community.