A prominent spot in Southwest Florida, the northwest corner of Estero Parkway and Three Oaks Parkway, is about to become a big-time shot across the bow in the battle to treat cancer.
It’s there, on 4.4 acres at 9961 Estero Oaks Drive, where Southwest Florida Proton, affiliated with Advocate Radiation Oncology, will build a 35,000-square-foot building that will be home to a proton therapy machine and center. Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy that uses charged proton particles to destroy cancer cells. Protons have the unique ability to travel into a target and not beyond it, which can reduce potential side effects and complications during and after cancer treatments.
Proton therapy, say medical officials, is also particularly useful when a cancerous tumor is close to a vital structure, such as the heart, brain stem or spinal cord, because it allows beams of high-energy protons, as opposed to photons, to precisely target cancer cells while ignoring healthy tissue. The therapy has also been shown to be the safest way to treat pediatric cancer patients.
Groundbreaking for the center is scheduled for this summer, according to a news release. Dr. Arie Dosoretz, a Fort Myers-based radiation oncologist and founding partner at Advocate, expects Southwest Florida Proton to be functioning in late 2023 with the first proton therapy treatments available in 2024.
“Southwest Florida Proton will be a beacon for cancer care in Southwest Florida and beyond,” Dosoretz says in the statement. “We envision Southwest Florida Proton as a destination for cancer patients seeking the best cancer care, both from a patient-doctor relationship and a patient-technology standpoint. This center will elevate cancer care to the highest level.”
In previous interviews, Dosoretz says a practice that makes this kind of investment, he says, typically spends more than $20 million. While declining to provide an exact price or investment, Dosoretz, planning this center for several years, secured a team of private investors who will finance the purchase of complex medical equipment, construction costs and operation of the treatment center.
The centerpiece of Southwest Florida Proton will be Ion Beam Application’s ProteusONE, a machine that delivers the most clinically advanced form of proton radiation therapy. The building also will provide diagnostic imaging capabilities and house exam rooms, administrative offices and other spaces. Belgium-based IBA will manufacture, install and service the machine.
The National Association for Proton Therapy lists 34 proton centers in the U.S. and three under development. Two of the centers are in Orlando and Miami, and while this would be the first on the west coast of Florida, other organizations have joined the trend: Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, in partnership with Florida Urology Partners, Proton Therapy Partners and Tampa General Hospital is planning one in the Tampa area, as is Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. The latter facility stems from a $15 million gift from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.
The Southwest Florida Proton, meanwhile, is the next, and biggest so-far, step for Advocate Radiation Oncology. The practice opened in 2019 with one location in Port Charlotte, and now has seven locations spread between Southwest and Southeast Florida, with several additional locations under development. “Southwest Florida Proton,” Dosoretz says, “will provide a truly powerful modality currently missing in our cancer treatment landscape.”