Children at St. Jude will soon have another treatment option

(WMC-TV) – Soon, children at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital will undergo a super-accurate cancer treatment called "proton therapy".

Instead of surgery, chemotherapy, and traditional radiation, proton therapy offers a very precise form of radiation without the nasty side effects.

The machine looks like the same kind that takes an MRI. But it is the tip of a cancer-fighting sword that uses a focused beam of protons to zap tumors.

"The proton system that I had, there's only one at MD Anderson, called the pencil beam, and that's what's coming to St. Jude," said proton therapy patient Jon Thompson.

In fact, Hitachi has announced that St. Jude purchased a pencil beam proton therapy system, which costs $200 million. It will go alongside Chili's Care Center.

Encased in a building with walls that are eight feet wide, proton therapy centers, like the one at Houston's MD Anderson Cancer Center, occupy space the size of a football field.

Jon Thompson of Germantown just completed eight weeks of proton therapy for prostate cancer.

"I had absolutely no side effects, Joe, and that was what was so incredible," said Thompson.

No hair loss. No chemo-sickness. No bloodshed. No harm done to other critical organs near the cancer.

Doctors say proton therapy is particularly effective for children. The beam attacks tumors near or within sensitive organs, while limiting radiation exposure to healthy tissues, which are vital in children whose bodies are still growing and developing.

Thompson, a Vietnam veteran, says exposure to Agent Orange likely caused his cancer. After a successful business career, Thompson brought the Titanic exhibit to Memphis. He thanked his proton therapy team on the 100th anniversary of that disaster as his treatment ended:

Right now, St. Jude collaborates with the University of Florida to provide proton therapy.

A fundraiser to fight prostate cancer is being held Saturday at the Botanical Gardens.  It is called "Dash for Dad".  You can find more information at their website.