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

Just Posted

The Port McNeill Fire Hall. (Port McNeill Fire Rescue photo)
Port McNeill Fire Rescue gets big financial boost from government

Port McNeill mayor Gaby Wickstrom was thrilled by the funding announcement

The river behind the ball field. (Tyson Whitney - North Island Gazette)
Pulled by the flow: river stirs up childhood memories

Gazette editor makes trek through Port Hardy wilderness to swim in the river

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

Black Press file photo
RCMP seek suspect in Vancouver Island-wide crime spree

Crimes stretched from Deep Bay to Qualicum, Ladysmith, Chemainus and Youbou

Alert Bay council has decided to cancel Canada Day celebrations. (Alertbay.ca photo)
Alert Bay council cancels Canada Day celebrations

The decision was made in wake of the mass graves being found at former residential schools

Nanaimo Fire Rescue crews on scene at a boat fire near the boat ramp at Long Lake on Sunday, June 20. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Boat burns up on Nanaimo’s Long Lake, man and child unhurt

Jet skiers attempt to put out fire by circling around to spray water on burning boat

Point Roberts is part of the mainland United States but not physically connected to it, to reach the community by land one must pass through Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Closed Canadian border leaves Point Roberts’ only grocery store on verge of closure

‘We’re Americans but we’re not attached to America. It’s so easy to forget we’re here,’ says owner Ali Hayton of Point Roberts, Wash.

The Somass Sawmill sits idle in early May 2021. While the kilns have been in use occasionally, and the lot has been used to store woodchips this spring, the mill has been curtailed since July 27, 2017. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
Port Alberni to expropriate Somass Sawmill from Western Forest Products

Sawmill has been ‘indefinitely’ curtailed since 2017

Robin Sanford and her fiance Simon Park were married in an impromptu ceremony at Abbotsford Regional Hospital on June 16. (Submitted photo)
Mom dies day after witnessing daughter’s hospital wedding in Abbotsford

Nurses help arrange impromptu ceremony in 3 hours for bride and groom

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson with Premier John Horgan after the budget speech Tuesday, April 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. home owner grant won’t be altered, despite expert advice

Tax break for residences worth up to $1.6 million too popular

B.C. conservation officer Sgt. Todd Hunter said a black bear is believed to have killed local livestock. (THE NEWS/files)
Black bear believed to have killed miniature donkey in Maple Ridge

Trap set for predator that has been killing livestock

The Comox Valley campus of North Island College. (File photo)
North Island College launches first Indigenous Plan

The plan signifies NIC’s commitment to become more Indigenous serving

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki and Minister of Housing David Eby have been battling over the Victory Church shelter and BC Housing projects in the city. (File photos)
Penticton heads to court over homeless shelter as BC Housing audit begins

The city was not satisfied with the response from Minister David Eby regarding the ongoing situation

People enjoy the sun at Woodbine Beach on June 19, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
BC Hydro assures customers it has ‘more than enough’ power to weather the heatwave

Despite an increase of pressure on the Western grid, blackouts are not expected like in some U.S. states

Most Read