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After a diagnosis of prostate cancer last year, 68-year-old Charles Cook sought out prostate cancer survivors and investigated many kinds of surgery and radiation treatments. From one of his neighbors at The Villages, he heard about proton therapy, a radiation method that wasn’t even available yet in Florida.

“My friend got his proton therapy in California,” Cook says. “Then, I heard it was going to be available in Jacksonville, and I had to wait a few months for the place to open. I was the fifth patient.”

The Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville opened in August 2006 and has treated hundreds of cancer patients.

“I would have my treatment, finish up and go out and play golf,” says Charles Cook, pictured at left.
Photo of Charles Cook:
Bill Mitchell / Daily Sun

The proton beam at the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute differs from traditional radiation because it’s not made up of electromagnetic energy, meaning it doesn’t pass directly through the body “like a bullet,” says Nancy Mendenhall, the Jacksonville institute’s medical director.

Rather, the proton beam is made of tiny particles that enter the body, meet resistance and slow down.

“They only travel as far as they have the kinetic energy to propel them,” Mendenhall says. “They give off most of their energy when they slow down at the end, so instead of having a bullet that passes right through the patient, we have the ability to kind of place a firecracker at whatever depth in the patient we want — and that’s obviously going to be where the tumor is.” Another advantage: Since the beam stops at the cancer site, it does less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, resulting in fewer side effects.

Cook’s treatment included 40 sessions over eight weeks. He rented a house in Jacksonville during that time and returned to The Villages each weekend. “I would have my treatment, finish up and go out and play golf,” he says. “I just had a checkup a month ago, and they believe I’m cancer free. I feel terrific.”

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