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Visit: Ackerman
Cancer Center

Traveling in Florida in March (2017), I visited the three currently operating proton therapy centers. Two of them are in Jacksonville, namely the University of Florida and this center, Ackerman Cancer Center .UF is a large, long-established venerable institution, bent on teaching and research and trials. From the point of patients treated, it is among the top centers in the world.

Ackerman, on the other hand, iis much smaller, yet offers a complete array of treatments and technologies, originating from the vision of Dr. Scott Ackerman and his longtime associate Dr. Ryan Perkin (see photos)s. Linda and I were very impressed with out tour of this facility and the time we spent with Aryn Lentz. It is, in fact, the only proton therapy center we know of that was privately funded and is doctor-owned. Bonds? I asked. No, conventional bank financing. Cost? That's proprietary, but I'm guessing about twenty-five million dollars.

One of the reasons many oncologists and radiologists persist in excluding proton therapy is because of the cost of the equipment. They can't afford the technology, so instead, they promote their own modalities.

Ackerman Cancer Center is an exception. They offer both standard radiation and proton therapy. For each new patient they do a comparison to see which modality would be more effective. When I was at Provision, I was impressed by the number of employees it took to operate a proton center. It is even more amazing to me in a private practice such as this, with dosimitrists, social workers, insurance experts, and so many more positions. All cancer centers are filled with people who care. All proton therapy centers praise their sense of community. Since every person has a completely customized treatment plan, personal attention is the name of the game.

That being said, it was the personal approach and the modest scale of the facility that I found most striking. I went to Provision because they have a registry which, when I joined it, guaranteed coverage by Medicare. Here at Ackerman, they are on the same registry, shared with Provision and soon, the proton center in Irving, Texas. That means I could have come here for my treatment. I am perfectly satisfied with Provision, but it would have been an alternative.

The building itself is physically very beautiful, with vibrant colors and lovely artwork. I would recommend this facility wholeheartedly except for one drawback. They do not have pencil beam scanning. Even the most recent installations of the Mevion S250 (photo left) do not have pencil beam scanning capability. That is a very important improvement in the accuracy and capability of proton therapy. The result is still excellent, but somewhat less than it could be (98% success rate vs. 99%). Virtually all equipment installed at new proton centers in the past few years includes pencil beam capability, except for Mevion. They are working on making that upgrade, soon to install one in Georgetown (Washington D.C.). If that goes well, then Ackerman will add another treatment room and build an addition for a second Mevion S250 with pencil beam capability. This is also true for the proton therapy center at Orlando Health in Orlando, which also has a Mevion S250 and also is awaiting a second installation.

I'm getting a bit off on a tangent here, but there are other choices than the Mevion S250. IBA is the leading maker of proton equipment (from Belgium) and they have a ProteusOne single gantry system that does have pencil beam ability. ProNova is a company in Tennessee (sister to Provision) that is making the latest updated equipment. I would think Mevion would be at a serious disadvantage, yet they seem to sell their equipment.

Most centers have a Wednesday lunch for future, current, and past proton patients. Here at Ackerman, they have kicked that up a notch, making it dinner on Friday evening. For anyone interested in proton therapy, that would be a perfect event to attend, seeing the building, meeting some of the staff, and talking to current and past patients. They all their graduates the BEAM Team, with the first word being an acronym for Bravely Educating and Monitoring. Rather than ringing a bell at the end of their treatment, the patients receive a very lovely momento (see photo).

I was told that with their one treatment room they treat from forty to forty-five patients a day. That is very efficient (roughly one every twenty minutes). Being smaller than many of the large institutional medical centers, they also rely on the National Association for Proton Therapy for some of their input, such as getting answers to insurance questions and procedures. It allows them to interact with other proton centers, comparing notes and sharing information. Here is a link to that organization: NAPT. Here's a link to Ackerman Cancer Center.