Last year was my first attempt at making the obligatory annual predictions of a blogger. How did I do? I’ll leave that assessment to you (let me know). Regardless of my 2016 score, I’ll give it another go this year with the same general approach: I’ll keep the list short and limited to the general topic areas of The After Proton Blog—protons, prostates, and people—but with one important difference.
Although my 2016 predictions were a mashup of sarcasm and semi-seriousness, this time I just couldn’t seem to take the yearly prognosticating ritual seriously at all. My 2017 predictions mostly occurred to me during REM sleep and were transcribed by my wife as I mumbled aloud. I take no responsibility for whether they make any sense, and neither does she. Regardless, let’s forge ahead and just have a little forecasting fun. After you read mine, please send me yours and maybe I’ll post a “predictions part-deux” article.
The first prostate transplant attempt will occur
In 1967 Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first heart transplant in South Africa. Now, a half-century later in South Carolina, his great grandson Sebastiaan “Snippy” Barnard will attempt the first prostate transplant in his home town where he currently runs a barber shop and does surgery in his spare time.
When asked why he was going to attempt this landmark procedure, Snippy explained, “What better way to honor pop-pop than to usher in a new era of transplants that can potentially benefit one in six men?” He continued, “Sure, I know it’ll be tricky, with that urethra thing in there somewhere and, you know, the bladder and lots of other stuff all over the place around it, but hey … if I don’t give it a whirl, then who will?”
Barnard is currently awaiting a volunteer to be the first man to undergo this innovative surgery.
A gantry wedding will go viral
Anyone who has received proton therapy understands the warm, intimate relationship that develops between patients and radiation therapists (RTs). While this intimacy is especially true for prostate cancer patients of the balloon era (see my book for complete details), it is by no means exclusive to us. There is no doubt that all proton patients appreciate their RTs.
It is therefore inevitable that someday a patient and an RT will fall in love, and I predict this will happen in 2017. The number of proton facilities is set to explode this year, and along with this expansion there will be a rapidly growing base of unmarried patients and therapists. Just as the proton beam hits the bulls-eye during each treatment, so will Cupid’s arrow hit its mark. When it finally happens, the lucky couple will want to be wed where it all began for them—in the gantry. A video of the event will be made, posted on YouTube, and go viral. After all, it is widely known that videos of cancer stories with a happy ending rank second only to cat shenanigans.
IBA will provide protons plus perks
IBA (Ion Beam Applications)—the leading global supplier of proton therapy equipment—will become even more closely aligned with the patients they serve. To expand the “enhance” part of their “protect, enhance, and save lives” mission, they will leverage the fact that they are based in Belgium. Yes, IBA will finally take full advantage of that country’s well known resources: beer, fries, waffles, and chocolate.
Starting in Q3/2017, each treatment facility using IBA’s equipment will provide more than just cutting edge proton therapy. In a gradual roll-out beginning with The University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute where I was treated in 2011, IBA-based facilities will offer several new perks for patients. Those with morning appointments will be served hot, fresh, genuine Belgian waffles to enjoy with their coffee before or after their visit to the gantry. Afternoon patients will be treated to a plethora of exotic chocolate delicacies. Then, starting at 5:00 the water cooler will be filled with beer imported from Belgium, and Moules Frites—Belgium’s famous recipe for mussels and fries—will be on the munchie menu.
The phrase “proton paradise” will become part of the cancer lexicon.
To expand the “enhance” part of their “protect, enhance, and save lives” mission, IBA will leverage the fact that they are based in Belgium.
Here’s a related prediction: Because of the new perks, prostate cancer patients treated at participating facilities will increasingly choose the standard 39 treatments, not the shorter hypofractionation course of 28 or fewer sessions. More beer, more fries, more waffles, and more chocolate are strong incentives (along with curing cancer).
Prostate cancer patients will be treated in pairs
As the demand for proton therapy skyrockets, scheduling the ever-increasingly number of new patients will be a major challenge for treatment facilities. Some that are already zapping patients nearly around the clock will find a solution in a novel technique made possible by the Bragg Peak: prostate cancer patients can be treated in pairs.
By adding a second zapper to the gantry, one man could be hit from the left and the other from the right simultaneously. Each beam would stop safely at the prostate …
With a simple equipment upgrade, two prostate patients could be treated at once. Currently, a prostate patient is zapped via the left and right hips on alternating days. A double-wide table—or slab, as we call it—could accommodate two men side by side. By adding a second zapper to the gantry, one man could be hit from the left and the other from the right simultaneously. Each beam would stop safely at the prostate with no exit radiation to affect the neighboring patient, courtesy of the Bragg Peak.
Doubling the capacity of a single treatment room in this manner is technically feasible by late 2017, or 2018 for sure.
A cancer detection app will become available
Cancer patients—particularly fans of Star Trek’s tricorder—have begun asking the obvious question, “We use our phones for just about everything, so why can’t we use them to diagnose cancer?” In response, and to enhance their reputation as innovators, proton researchers will take this concept even further. They will introduce an iPhone/Android app that not only diagnoses all forms of cancer, but also automatically requests an application packet from three nearby proton facilities.
The free app, to be known as “CanSniffer,” will offer two premium upgrades. An “in app” purchase of $2.99 for the silver edition will provide a personalized letter of medical necessity to help satisfy skeptical insurance companies. The gold edition ($4.99) will add a threatening letter on legitimate legal letterhead for use if insurance appeals become necessary.
Beta testing will begin in early May, with an anticipated release date of Christmas 2017.
Proton vans will hit the road
The trend toward smaller, less expensive proton therapy equipment will accelerate … literally. In Q4-2017, mobile gantries housed in minivans (code-named “PortaProtons”) will be speeding around the country delivering proton therapy to the masses. Location will no longer be an issue for obtaining the most cutting edge cancer treatment available today.
The initial funding will come from crowd-sourcing, and a successful pitch for this technology will be made on Shark Tank. My guess is that Kevin O’Leary will recognize the enormous potential and will invest a million dollars in exchange for ten percent equity and a dollar per zap (in perpetuity).
Move over, mammogram vans. Make way for the fleet of PortaProtons approaching in the fast lane.
Implausible, but possible predictions
I know these are farfetched notions and predictions, but I’ve learned that some seemingly wacky ideas turn out to be not so nutty after all. Who would have thought, for example, that you could clobber a cancer tumor with an invisible beam that causes no pain and has little impact on surrounding healthy tissue?
My intention here was to help you start the year with a smile. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and happy holidays, and that your 2017 will be filled with smiles and joy.
Please remember to send me your predictions and make me smile, too—thanks!