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DuPage hospital's proton therapy center approved
By Jake Griffin | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 9/17/2008 6:15 PM | Updated: 9/17/2008 8:50 PM

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In a surprise move, state regulators Wednesday approved Central DuPage Hospital's proposal to build a proton therapy cancer treatment center in Warrenville.

The unanimous decision by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board comes just months after the panel announced that it was planning to reject the Winfield hospital's project. In April, board members expressed concerns that Central DuPage's facility would be too close to a proton therapy center that Northern Illinois University is building just miles away.

"I say it's unfortunate the two sides couldn't come together in some way, but I don't want to leave Illinois lacking this mode of treatment," said acting board Chairman Susana Lopatka.

Central DuPage is planning to build a $140 million proton center that could be used to treat up to 1,500 patients a year.

NIU already has started construction of a similar $159 million facility at the DuPage National Technology Park in West Chicago. That center is scheduled to open in February 2010.

Jim Spear, executive vice president of Central DuPage, said the hospital expects to break ground on its facility within four weeks and open in 2011.

Proponents of the Central DuPage proposal were elated by the board's reversal.

"We maybe did a better job explaining this time," Spear said. "The key to them was understanding the technology is not new."

Spear admitted the decision came as a surprise.

John Lewis, executive director of the NIU proton treatment facility, said he was equally surprised. He has expressed concerns about the financial viability of two treatment centers so close to one another. Previously, he had stated that competition between the two might cause both to fail.

"We are disappointed by the decision, but we're going to move forward with our project and I guess the market will tell us," he said.

The board focused its Wednesday discussions on need rather than location. Despite the technology's existence for roughly 30 years, only a limited amount of research has been done on the benefits versus traditional radiation treatments, hospital officials told the board. However, that research suggests concentrated dosing in a stricken area with proton treatments has fewer side effects than traditional treatments that target the entire body, they said.

One report Central DuPage officials cited came from St. Jude's Children's Hospital in Memphis. Doctors there said proton treatments should one day be the sole method for treating cancer-stricken children to lessen the damaging side effects of traditional radiation therapy.

So far, there are only five proton treatment facilities in the country. However, Central DuPage officials are quick to point out several more are in the works and those are going to be located near existing or approved facilities.