The Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board last week approved a second proton therapy center to treat cancer in the Chicago area, despite concerns that the region can’t support two centers.

The proposed new facility would cost an estimated $140 million and be 58,000 square feet in size. It would be located in Warrenville in Will County and run through a partnership that involves the Central DuPage Hospital.

Northern Illinois University received approval in February from the planning board for its $159 million, 110,000-square-foot center in West Chicago, also in DuPage County, and construction has already begun.

The Illinois Finance Authority advanced borrowing plans this summer for NIU’s pioneering proton therapy center. The Northern Illinois Proton and Research Center LLC received preliminary approval to issue up to $200 million to finance building construction and to purchase equipment for the center.

The project stems from a 2006 feasibility study commissioned by NIU and conducted by ProBeam Oncology, an affiliate of the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the country, claiming 560,000 lives annually, according to the National Cancer Institute, and proton therapy is considered cutting-edge treatment.

Radiation therapy is a common treatment, but its dosage is complicated by a need to kill cancer cells without damaging healthy tissue, which can compromise a patients’ quality of life. Proton therapy utilizes protons generated through an acceleration process with magnets steering the proton beam to allow for a more precise targeting of cancerous cells.

The therapy is only currently regularly available in the U.S. at the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California; a center at the University of Texas; a center in Bloomington, Ind.; Massachusetts General Hospital; and a center at the University of Florida.

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