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Proton Therapy Treats 175th Patient

01 November 2013

The Proton Therapy Facility at TRIUMF–a one-of-a-kind cancer treatment centre in Canada–has just treated its 175th patient. Providing treatment for ocular melanoma since 1995, the Proton Therapy Facility at TRIUMF is one of just 42 facilities worldwide capable of supplying the proton beams, the technical know-how, and the coordination with local cancer care institutions to provide the best possible treatment for this rare disease.

"Since my involvement in 2009, I have been repeatedly amazed by the dedication of the people involved. Treatment has often been possible because somebody behind the scene went the extra mile, even on the weekend or in the night," says Dr. Cornelia Hoehr, TRIUMF's Proton Therapy coordinator (shown in photo).

Just a few decades ago, to be diagnosed with ocular melanoma was a dreadful sentence. The cancerous tumor growing near the back of an eye could prove fatal if undetected and once discovered, treatment options included removal of the affected eye.

Although not a common type of cancer, local doctors see and treat about 40 cases a year. Patients come from all over BC, western Canada, Ontario and Quebec and range in age from 14 to 86 years old. Of the 40 patients seen annually, ten are treated with proton therapy at TRIUMF, the other 30 are treated with Brachytherapy, where radioactive seeds are inserted around the tumor and give out a high radiation dose directly to the tumour. The ten cases that come to TRIUMF are those that Brachytherapy can't treat effectively, either because it would damage sensitive healthy tissue or because the tumor is too big and the activity from the seeds can't reach the whole tumor.

Proton Therapy treatment at TRIUMF is scheduled about six times a year, from April to December. Each patient comes to TRIUMF to have custom equipment made to ensure the comfort and safety of their treatment. The painless treatment lasts 90 seconds, which is administered four times over four days. Local tumour control is 91% effective with a five-year survival rate of 82%, with the affected eye saved in 80% of cases.

The Proton Therapy Facility is a collaboration between the BC Cancer Agency, UBC's Eye Care Centre and TRIUMF, and is the only facility of its kind in Canada. Funding for the initial development of PT was provided by the Mr. & Mrs. P.A. Woodward's foundation, and is since supported by both TRIUMF and the BC Cancer Agency. Prior to this, Canadian patients had to go abroad to receive proton treatment (or have the eye removed entirely). Recognizing the astounding success in treatment, 41 more facilities are currently in planning or are under construction around the world.

To learn more about the PT program, visit

Congratulations to Dr. Cornelia Hoehr, Dr. Michael Trinczek and Dr. Ewart Blackmore, TRIUMF's Proton Therapy coordinators; Dr. Katherine Paton (ophthalmologist) from the Eye Care Centre at UBC; and Dr. Roy Ma and Dr. Tom Pickles (oncologists) from the BC Cancer Agency. 


–Melissa Baluk, Communications Coordinator