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*

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

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the Canadian government should consider sanctions on the U.S. if they refuse to reconsider the decision to cancel the Keystone XL Pipeline. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Keystone XL officially cancelled, Kenney vows to fight on

U.S. President Joe Biden cancelled the presidential permit for the pipeline on first day of office

Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said province’s test positivity rate for COVID-19 is steadily declining. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
669 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta, 21 additional deaths

COVID-19 test positivity rate down to 4.5 per cent

Kyla Gibson with her boyfriend Gavin Hardy. (Photo used with permission)
Sylvan Lake couple lose ‘fur babies’ to house fire

‘They were our world and nothing will ever replace them,’ Kyla Gibson said of her three pets

Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw reported an additional 456 COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours. (photography by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Five new COVID-19 deaths in Central zone, two in Red Deer

Province reports 456 new cases of COVID-19

Businesses are getting creative to keep cash flowing. (File photo)
Central Albertan lobbying government to help those affected by CERB repayments

Catherine Hay says she received a letter in November saying she had to completely repay the benefit

(Thesendboys/Instagram)
Video of man doing backflip off Vancouver bridge draws police condemnation

Group says in Instagram story that they ‘don’t do it for the clout’

Toronto’s Mass Vaccination Clinic is shown on Sunday January 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Canadian malls, conference centres, hotels offer up space for COVID vaccination centres

Commercial real estate association REALPAC said that a similar initiative was seeing success in the U.K.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden are sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP)
Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States

About 25,000 National Guard members have been dispatched to Washington

A memorial for the fatal bus crash involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team at the intersection of Highways 35 and 335 near Tisdale, Tuesday, October 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards
‘End of the road:’ Truck driver in Humboldt Broncos crash awaits deportation decision

Sidhu was sentenced almost two years ago to eight years after pleading guilty to dangerous driving

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. Public opposition to the Alberta government’s plans to expand coal mining in the Rocky Mountains appears to be growing. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File
Alberta cancels coal leases, pauses future sales, as opposition increases

New Democrat environment critic Marlin Schmidt welcomed the suspension

File photo
Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit recovers valuable stolen property

Property valued at over $50,000 recovered by Wetaskiwin Crime Reduction Unit.

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy’s Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Mead Gruver, File)
First Nations seek to intervene in court challenge of coal policy removal

Bearspaw, Ermineskin and Whitefish First Nations are among those looking to intervene

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic from Rideau Cottage in Ottawa on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau vows to keep up the fight to sway U.S. on merits of Keystone XL pipeline

Canada’s pitch to the Biden team has framed Keystone XL as a more environmentally friendly project than original

Most Read