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Trio Of Medical Networks Join Forces To Fight Cancer With New Proton Center In Harlem

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - There's a major development for cancer patients who need radiation therapy, an amazing technology in which protons are shot into a tumor at near the speed of light.

Protons are a very different type of radiation therapy, reports CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez.

They are heavy particles as opposed to the x-rays normally used. That makes them more expensive but also less troublesome.

It was about a year and a half ago that Larry Giammarco's PSA level came back elevated.

It led to "a biopsy yes, they found out that I had prostate cancer, 3+4 G score of a 7 which meant that I needed some form of treatment was recommended," said prostate cancer patient Laurence Giammarco.

The treatment Giammarco opted for was radiation, but not conventional external beam radiation. He chose proton therapy.

"I think based on my age, and the quality of life, side effects came into play and I thought that that was the best option for me at that time," he said.

The reason Giammarco chose proton therapy for a better quality of life is that protons cause fewer side effects than x-rays.

"Traditional radiation goes in and hits the tumor, but then keeps going out the other side, so a lot of normal tissue is exposed to radiation," said Dr. Charles Simone, chief medical officer at the New York Proton Center. "That's where patients can get side effects. Proton therapy is much more precise, it hits the target and then completely stops. So there's no radiation beyond the tumor."

Giammarco had proton therapy at the Sloan Kettering Center in Somerset, New Jersey.

As of a couple of months ago, he could have come to a gleaming New York Proton Center, a $300 million state of the art facility taking up an entire city block in East Harlem.

To share that cost, it is a consortium of Memorial Sloan Kettering, Mount Sinai and Montefiore.

The chief of head and neck radiation at Sloan Kettering explained that protons can be used against virtually any cancer.

"Brain tumors when you don't want to treat the normal brain, pediatric cancers," said Dr. Nancy Lee of Memorial Sloan Kettering.

When you think of other diseases, there's even breast cancer you can spare the heart and lung underneath the breast. With lung cancer you can spare all the normal tissue around the lung. The list goes on.

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