Treating Cancer in Krakow

Last month it was announced that a 4.5 million zloty proton eye radiotherapy station will begin operating in spring 2009. Within four years, Krakow will have a National Hadron Radiotherapy Centre where doctors will be able to treat all types of tumours using protons.

When particles are sped up to great velocities in a particle accelerator they start emitting radiation. This physical property is used all over the world for radiotherapy – killing a tumour in a human body with a beam of dashing radiating particles that is pointed to where the tumour is located. Among other types of radiotherapy, using hadrons is a very precise method, as a hadron is a very special configuration of quarks in an atom. Due to this the bundle of hadrons is very precise and helps eliminate many radiation complications. This method has been used in clinics all over the world for thirty years.

“Protons are particles that are two thousand times heavier than electrons and their bundle can be directed precisely to hit the tumour and not other healthy tissues surrounding it,” explains Pawe? Olko, PhD, the deputy director of the Nuclear Physics Institute of the Polish Science Academy in Krakow. “In addition, protons give off their maximum radiation inside the body and not when they enter it,” he says.

There are two reasons for starting an eye tumour therapy centre in Krakow. First, the Jagiellonian University’s Ophthalmology Clinic that would use the therapy centre already has great experience in other types of eye tumour therapy and helps patients from all over Poland. However, starting proton therapy was not possible earlier due to the lack of funds.

“We have been making attempts to establish such an eye therapy centre in Krakow for over ten years,” says Bozena Romanowska-Dixon, PhD, a head of the Ophthalmology Clinic at the Jagiellonian University’s Collegium Medicum, who has been treating eye melanomas for many years. “Our clinic is very experienced in ophthalmological tumours and in the Nuclear Institute we have the only particle accelerator in Poland that is suitable for medical purposes. It is obvious then that a proton therapy centre would be created here sooner or later,” she added.

The other reason is that the accelerator is too old and is not able to speed up particles fast enough to reach body tumours. In the National Hadron Therapy Centre that is to be built in four years in Radzikowskiego St. (near the IKEA store), scientists and doctors will use a state of the art, 25 million euro accelerator and a gantry scanning device, through which a proton bundle will reach internal tumours. It has also been confirmed that the high standards set for the endeavour will not threaten Krakow’s natural environment and its inhabitants with radiation. When the centre is built it will be one of the few places in the world with the ability to treat tumours by means of radiotherapy.

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