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Tampa General and Moffitt Cancer Center are bringing proton therapy to the region

Proton therapy irradiates cancer cells with a beam of protons inside the tumor.
Amelie-Benoist / Image Point FR/RFBSIP
Proton therapy irradiates cancer cells with a beam of protons inside the tumor.

The cancer treatment attacks tumors more accurately than traditional radiation. Tampa Bay residents haven't been able to access it in the region yet.

Two of the Tampa Bay region’s leading cancer centers are bringing an innovative treatment known as proton therapy to patients in the coming years.

Tampa General Hospital and Moffitt Cancer Center are each planning to build proton therapy centers, filling a gap in access in the region to a treatment that could cause less side effects than traditional radiation.

Traditional radiation typically uses X-rays, or photon beams, to delivery energy to a tumor. But this energy passes through the body and, as a result, can damage nearby healthy tissue as well. Proton therapy shoots a beam of energy particles that hits the tumor and stops right there.

“To not only help reduce the side effects that patients experience with radiation, but also potentially allow us to give higher doses to tumors, allowing it to be a more effective treatment,” explained Dr. Richard Tuli, deputy director of Tampa General’s Cancer Institute.

Proton therapy is especially beneficial for children, whose growing tissues and organs are especially sensitive to radiation, Tuli said. It’s also good for cancers near “critical structures"

“You might imagine a tumor that's pushing up against your spinal cord, or against your brain, or against some particular nerves that if they happened to be irritated or damaged by the radiation might cause significant consequences,” said Tuli.

Proton therapy is more expensive and complicated to provide, so it's not widely available yet. There are only dozens of centers around the country compared to thousands of traditional radiation facilities.

Tampa Bay residents have to travel to other parts of the state to access it, including Orlando, South Florida and Jacksonville. That should change in 2025 when Tampa General plans to open a proton therapy center near Tampa’s Hyde Park neighborhood in partnership with Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute.

Moffitt expects to have its own unit up and running in 2026 at the new 775-acre Global Innovation Center it's building in Pasco County.

“This exciting new technology allows us to extend our clinical and research expertise into proton therapy, bolstering Moffitt’s position as a leader in personalized and adaptive radiation therapy as we seek to continually provide the best possible patient outcomes,” Dr. Patrick Hwu, president and CEO of Moffitt, said in a statement.

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Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.