Jeanne Bellezzo

Jeanne Bellezzo

When three-time U.S. Olympian Steve Scott was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014, maintaining his quality of life and minimizing serious side effects during and after treatment were Scott’s primary concerns. The former track star at UC Irvine decided against conventional treatment options in favor of an advanced form of therapy: proton beam radiation.

Scott’s tumor was located near a nerve bundle that controlled his bowel, urinary and sexual functions, which presented significant concerns. Surgery would require a “safety margin” around the tumor, which would disrupt the nerve bundle and likely cause incontinence and loss of natural sexual function.

Nor did Scott want conventional X-ray radiation therapy, which often causes unpleasant side effects. In addition, Scott’s father passed away from complications associated with X-ray radiation used to treat his prostate cancer.

Scott began to research possible alternatives and discovered proton radiation therapy at Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego. A noninvasive, extremely precise form of external beam radiation treatment, proton therapy is delivered by generating a beam of protons – positively charged subatomic particles – that can be controlled to conform exactly to the shape and depth of the tumor.

More Precise Treatment, Fewer Risks

“Conventional radiation treatments use X-rays, which penetrate into normal tissue beyond the tumor,” says radiation oncologist Carl Rossi, MD, medical director of Scripps Proton Therapy Center. “But a proton beam can be controlled to stop where the tumor stops, killing cancer cells while preserving more of a patient’s surrounding healthy tissue.” This accuracy is important, because less radiation to healthy tissue lowers the probability of side effects and secondary cancers related to radiation treatment.

Gantry with Dr. Giap and patient: Scripps Proton Therapy Center treats patients exclusively with the latest generation of proton beam technology.An internationally recognized expert in proton therapy Dr. Rossi has personally treated more than 9,000 prostate cancer patients with proton radiation over the last 24 years — more than any other physician in the world. He and his team at Scripps have more than 90 collective years of expertise.

In addition, Scripps is one of only two proton therapy centers in the nation to treat patients exclusively with pencil-beam scanning technology, the most advanced form of proton therapy. Pencil-beam scanning sweeps the proton beam across the tumor, treating it layer by layer.

Following a partial mastectomy for breast cancer, Bev Grant, 70, was about to start X-ray radiation therapy when a friend convinced her to look into proton therapy. Then, Bev learned that another friend’s mother was having heart surgery. “Her mother had had radiation for breast cancer 10 years earlier, and her doctors told her the radiation had damaged her heart,” Bev says. “That really got to me.”

If you need radiation, you owe it to yourself to look into proton therapy

Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that women who received X-ray radiation to their left breast developed a higher risk for heart disease, which was directly linked to the volume of heart tissue being irradiated during treatment.

Bev needed just two weeks or proton treatment, as opposed to six to eight weeks of traditional radiation therapy. Though she felt a bit more fatigued than usual during her treatment, she was able to go about her daily activities, including spending time with her two grandchildren.

Treatment for New and Recurring Cancers

Proton therapy can be used to treat many types of new and recurring cancer, in addition to other conditions typically treated with X-ray radiation. Even patients who have already had X-ray radiation and cannot receive more may be able to have proton therapy.

Most patients receive daily weekday treatments on an outpatient basis for four to eight consecutive weeks. During therapy, patients feel no physical sensation from the proton beam, hear very little noise and experience minimal discomfort. Time spent in the treatment room is usually about 15 to 20 minutes, most of which is for precise positioning and equipment adjustments. Afterward, patients are free to go about their daily activities.

Proton therapy is approved by the Food & Drug Administration and has an established history of reimbursement by Medicare and many private health insurance payers. Specific coverage guidelines vary among commercial insurers.

Positive Prognosis

Steve Scott completed his eight-week course of proton treatment in fall 2014 and has no evidence of cancer.

“I have experienced absolutely no side effects from my treatments. I coached my cross country teams [at CSU San Marcos] throughout my treatments, without missing a single day,” he says. “I’ve maintained the intimacy I value so much with my wife JoAnn, and remain active as a father and mentor in the community.”

Bev Grant’s prognosis also is excellent. “If you need radiation, you owe it to yourself to look into proton therapy,” she says.


For more information or to request a free guide, visit https://www.scripps.org/services/cancer-care__proton-therapy or call 858-549-7400.

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