Proton beam therapy facility under construction at Mayo Clinic Cancer Center

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Work crews are installing the first pieces of equipment that will deliver proton therapy treatment to cancer patients at the Mayo Clinic's new Cancer Center in Phoenix.

"This is a really great milestone in Mayo Clinic's history here in Arizona and for cancer treatment for our patients," Chris Hilgemann, the director of facilities project development and technology, said Monday morning as crews connected parts of a two-story gantry to a massive crane.

Proton beam therapy is designed deliver high doses of radiation to cancerous tumors while reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. The key is that the proton beam can be specifically focused.

That extremely accurate targeting gives doctors the explicit control they need to treat tumors that are deep in the body and perilously close to critical organs.

"It's a very precise way of attacking cancer," Hilgemann explained.

Proton therapy is non-invasive and painless, according to The National Association for Proton Therapy. In addition, the side effects are minimal when compared to convention forms of radiation.

Construction on the center began in December 2011.

Services will start moving into the Cancer Center early next year. The proton beam therapy is expected to be available in March 2016. Once online, Mayo will be one of fewer than 20 facilities in the country -- and the only one in Arizona -- to offer the treatment.

A similar facility is under construction at Mayo's campus in Rochester, Minn.