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

Power outages affected thousands of BC Hydro customers in the north on Jan. 14 (File photo) (File photo)
Power outages affect thousands of BC Hydro customers in northern B.C.

Transmission failure led to outages in Prince Rupert and Port Edward

A Prince Rupert port expansion project received a $25 million investment from the provincial government, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure announced on Jan. 14. Seen here is Ridley Terminals Inc., a coal export terminal in Prince Rupert (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)
$25 million government investment in Prince Rupert port expansion project

Prince Rupert port expansion project expected to create more than 2,200 jobs

For the second time in less than a year, Air Canada announced on Jan. 13 it has suspended flights on the Prince Rupert-Vancouver route as of Jan 17. (Photo by: Jerold Leblanc)
Cessation of flights to YPR will affect the municipal economy and global trade, P.R. Mayor said

Chamber of Commerce said it will aggressively pursue the resumption of flights to Prince Rupert

Air Canada has suspended flights to Prince Rupert Regional Airport due to COVID-19 mitigation, the airline announced on Jan. 13. (Photo:THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
YPR is not immune to plummeted air travel demands – 25 jobs lost

Prince Rupert Regional Airport flight cancellation will levee significant hardship - Rick Leach

A woman wears a face mask and shield to curb the spread of COVID-19 while walking in North Vancouver, B.C., on Wednesday, January 6, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
536 COVID cases, 7 deaths reported as B.C. finds its first case of South African variant

Henry said 69,746 people have received their first dose of the COVID vaccine.

Seasonal influenza vaccine is administered starting each fall in B.C. and around the world. (Langley Advance Times)
After 30,000 tests, influenza nowhere to be found in B.C.

COVID-19 precautions have eliminated seasonal infection

Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd during the march on Washington, D.C., in August of 1963. Courtesy photo
Government announces creation of B.C.’s first anti-racism act on Black Shirt Day

B.C. Ministers say education “a powerful tool” in the fight for equity and equality

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon shared a handwritten note his son received on Jan. 13, 2021. (Ravi Kahlon/Twitter)
Proud dad moment: B.C. minister’s son, 10, receives handwritten note for act of kindness

North Delta MLA took to Twitter to share a letter his son received from a new kid at school

Black Press media file
Port McNeill driver tells police he thought the pandemic meant no breathalyzers

Suspect facing criminal charges after breathalyzer readings in excess of 3.5 times the legal limit

Forestry companies in B.C. agree to abide by the cedar protocols based on traditional laws of the First Nation members of the Nanwakolas Council. (Photo courtesy, Nanwakolas Council)
Landmark deal sees B.C. forest firms treat big cedars like a First Nation would

Western Forest Products, Interfor among companies to adapt declaration drafted by Nanwakolas Council

A northern resident killer whale shows injuries sustained by a collision with a vessel in B.C. waters. (Photo supplied by Ocean Wise Conservation Association)
Coast Guard ramps up protections for B.C. whales

First-ever Marine Mammal Desk will enhance cetacean reporting and enforcement

Two toucans sit on tree at an unidentified zoo. (Pixabay.com)
BC SPCA calls for ban on exotic animal trade after 50 parrots, toucans pass through YVR

One toucan was found dead and several others were without food

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau listens to a question during a news conference outside Rideau cottage in Ottawa, Friday, January 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau says Canada’s COVID vaccine plan on track despite Pfizer cutting back deliveries

Canadian officials say country will still likely receive four million doses by the end of March

Most Read