Recognition and motivation: The WPE treats its 3,000th patient.
The West German Proton Therapy Center (WPE) has treated its 3,000th patient. The 39-year-old was diagnosed with a meningioma last year – and only after a long path of finding the correct indication, during which she was often left to her own resources: “It was actually only the WPE’s case manager who first helped me after this terrible news. And as physically exhausting as the treatments may be, I feel in the best of hands here and look to the future with optimism.” For Prof. Dr. Beate Timmermann, medical director of the Clinic for Particle Therapy at the WPE, this conclusion is actually the most important news: “The number 3,000 certainly stands for the increasing recognition of proton therapy as a standard procedure. We are very proud of that. But it also stands for 3,000 people from all over the world who place their hope for recovery in us. And that’s what drives us in our work day after day.”
Meningiomas, usually benign tumors of the meninges, are among the slow-growing tumors. As a result, the disease is usually accompanied by no symptoms for a long time; the actual finding is often incidental. In her case, abnormal hormone levels would have ultimately led to the diagnosis of meningioma. “It was a long road until then, though. Many doctors didn’t feel responsible; I was sometimes offered appointments with more than half a year’s waiting time. I then organized an MRI appointment myself to get certainty.” And she also had to make her own efforts to find the best therapy: “The tumor is very close to the pituitary gland. That’s why all three neurosurgeons I contacted advised me against surgery. This would have been very delicate and damage was to be expected. So I searched the Internet for alternatives, became aware of the WPE and proton therapy and simply sent a contact request. And then, after such a long time in which I had felt really helpless, everything suddenly happened very quickly. The very next day, a case manager from the WPE contacted me, I sent in my documents, and shortly afterwards I was invited to Essen for an interview with a doctor. It was all perfectly organized, and my case manager took care of everything that needed to be taken care of with regard to my therapy at the WPE.”
In fact, proton therapy is virtually predestined for the treatment of meningiomas, since irradiation of the head can – depending on the radiation dose – lead in the long term to damage to hypothalamo-pituitary function and thus, under certain circumstances, to hormonal disorders with sometimes serious consequences. “Many meningiomas are very difficult to operate on because of their location, and radiation is also very challenging because there is usually a lot of sensitive tissue around the tumor itself that is worth protecting,” explains Prof. Timmermann. And it is precisely in these cases that proton therapy plays out its great advantages: targeted irradiation with the greatest possible sparing of healthy regions. “Radiation exposure in the area of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus, for example, can be reduced in this way. At the same time, the probability of late effects or restrictions of endocrine functions is reduced. And this is particularly important when patients are still young. Because in this way their long-term quality of life is preserved in the best possible way. Nevertheless, even after 3,000 patients, it is important to collect data and empirical values in prospective studies in order to be able to continuously develop and optimize proton therapy.”
As part of her treatment, the 39-year-old therefore decided to participate in the “EndoPro study”, which is specifically investigating the long-term effects of cranial proton therapy on the endocrine function of the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in adults with brain and skull base tumors. She does not regret her spontaneous contact with the WPE for a second: “The radiation treatments are already stressful, and I actually need the afternoons on the sofa to rest. But I know that everything is being done here to help me. And I know that all my questions are really answered here and I am not left to my own devices. That helps me cope with my disease. I may be the 3,000th patient, but I’m certainly not just a number here.”
If you have general questions about proton therapy at WPE, please feel free to contact our Case Management:
Phone: +49 201 723-6600
Meningiomas account for about a quarter of all central nervous system (CNS) tumors in adults. They commonly occur between the ages of 50 and 60; on average, women are affected more often than men (3:2). At WPE, CNS tumors account for about half of all tumors treated. Since 2013, a total of 147 patients have been treated for meningioma (as of December 2021). After embryonal tumors such as medulloblastomas (421 cases), gliomas (364) and ependymomas (299), meningiomas thus represent the fourth largest group within the CNS tumors irradiated at the WPE. As Germany’s largest proton therapy facility at a university hospital, the WPE treats patients from all over Germany, Europe and further abroad.
For more information on the treatment of CNS tumors and meningiomas, click here:
Background: EndoPro study
The study, which involves not only the Clinic for Particle Therapy at the WPE but also the Clinic for Endocrinology at the University Medicine Essen, has been recording adult patients receiving proton irradiation of the head at the West German Proton Therapy Center Essen (WPE) for a good two and a half years. EndoPro investigates the effects of volume-dependent radiation doses on pituitary and hypothalamic structures as well as the long-term effects on hormonal functions that may result. The aim is also to clarify whether such consequences occur less frequently after proton therapy than with other methods, or at what dose exposure of the pituitary gland and with what probability hormonal disturbances can occur. By the end of 2021, 82 participants had been enrolled in the study. At 32 percent, patients with meningiomas make up the largest group.