Kimberly Berger poses for a photo with her son, Jonah, 12, in this undated handout photo. Berger and her son travelled to Seattle, Wash., last February where he underwent proton beam therapy for a brain tumour at a private clinic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, Kimberly Berger *MANDATORY CREDIT*

Experts, national parents group, call for specialized proton therapy clinic in Canada

Proton radiotherapy uses a beam of protons to irradiate cancerous tissue in children and adults

An advocacy group for children’s cancer research says it’s time Canada makes an advanced form of radiotherapy, called proton beam therapy, more widely available.

Canada is the only G7 country without a clinical proton facility — a situation that forces families to travel to the United States to seek a treatment that has been around for about a decade.

Canadians should have access to the advanced level of care that comes from proton beam therapy, said Chris Collins, chair of Advocacy for Canadian Childhood Oncology Research Network, or Ac2orn.

“This is an important and proven technology and medical treatment,” Collins said in a recent interview.

Proton radiotherapy uses a beam of protons to irradiate cancerous tissue in children and adults. In comparison to conventional radiation therapy, proton therapy delivers a higher concentration of radiation without affecting nearby organs.

Collins is a former speaker of the New Brunswick legislature who lost his 13-year-old son Sean to cancer in 2007. He said the COVID-19 pandemic is making it more difficult for families to travel to the United States for treatment.

He said the pandemic is exposing an inequity in the health-care system that would be largely addressed if there were a Canadian option.

“Proportionally, it would be good to have a centre in Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto, and to fund families who are travelling to these places,” he said.

Kimberley Berger, of Vancouver, knows how difficult it can be to access the treatment her 12-year-old son Jonah received at a private clinic in Seattle, Wash., last February.

While the B.C. health system funded the treatment, the family was on its own to pay their accommodations during the six weeks her son received proton therapy and chemotherapy following surgery for a brain tumour.

“My immediate thought when this happened was, ‘how are we going to do this?’” Berger said. “I have another son and my husband is working, we have to rent a home in another city and that is expensive.”

She said dealing with a foreign health system was an added stress.

“You don’t know how the system works and then throw a pandemic on top of it,” she said in a recent interview. “The pandemic drives it home that we need to be sustainable in Canada when something like this does happen.”

Dr. Jim Whitlock, division head of haematology and oncology at SickKids hospital in Toronto, said proton therapy is a particularly effective option for children who have brain tumours or other types of cancer.

Proton therapy, he said, is preferable for patients who have tumours at the base of the skull: “A tricky area to try to radiate and not cause damage.”

Whitlock said the up-front capital costs — estimated between $75 million and $250 million — are the main hurdle to building a proton centre in Canada.

He said there should be at least one national facility, adding that any province that decides to build one will need the help of the federal government.

The vision of building centres of excellent for expensive and uncommon therapies is one “Canada needs to embrace as a nation,” Whitlock said. “I hope the federal government will consider taking a more active role in helping address these national needs because some of these problems need to be solved at a national level.”

According to Health Canada, proton beam therapy systems are rated as Class III devices under federal regulations, meaning they must be licenced prior to importation or sale in the country.

“While Health Canada is responsible for assessing the safety, effectiveness and quality of medical devices, the availability, its use, and the funding of proton therapy in Canada fall under the responsibility of the provinces and territories,” the department said in an email.

Dr. Rob Rutledge, a radiation oncologist at the Nova Scotia Cancer Centre in Halifax, agrees that money is the issue.

Currently, the handful of patients in the Maritimes who qualify for the proton treatment are sent to the United States. But Nova Scotia, which funds the treatment, is looking at referring some patients to the Netherlands, a country Rutledge said has “excellent technology at a fraction of the cost.”

Proton treatment, however, needs to be offered to some children with brain tumours in Canada, Rutledge said, adding that the non-availability of the procedure exposes a gap in the health system.

“Pandemic aside, we need this treatment.”

Keith Doucette, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

CancerHealthcare

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The bobsled race has traditionally been a staple event at the carnival. File photo
Upcoming Rossland Winter Carnival cancelled due to COVID-19 crisis

This is the first time the carnival won’t be held in decades

Grace and her daughter Helen enjoyed one of the story walks put on by the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy. Photo: Submitted
Castlegar literacy programs going strong

Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy is still offering services throughout the West Kootenay.

A view of proposed seniors housing on Vernon St. Illustration: City of Nelson/ Vendure Retirement Communities
Nelson seniors housing project to start construction in the spring

Private development on Vernon Street will provide assisted living services as well as housing

The fundraiser is anticipated to occur again next year. Photo: Deb Penner
Castlegar Blue Barn Pet staff raise $15,579 for charities

Staff decided to hold fundraiser after they had to cancel their pet festival this fall

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

The Kimberley Dynamiters' next two exhibition games have been postponed due to an individual testing positive for COVID-19. Paul Rodgers file.
Member of Kimberley Dynamiters tests positive for COVID-19

Exhibition games in Fernie, Creston postponed

Most Read