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A passion for protons

Published: June 24 2008

Nancy Mendenhall

Associate Chairwoman, Department of Radiation Oncology
UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville

It’s not that UF radiation oncologist Nancy Mendenhall, M.D., hasn’t always been enthusiastic about her work. She has specialized in lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease, breast cancer and pediatric malignancies and has helped set national protocols for the treatment of childhood cancer while serving on national children’s oncology cooperative research groups.

She has been recognized as a top doctor in Good Housekeeping, Redbook and The Ladies’ Home Journal and has made the list of “The Best Cancer Doctors in America” four times.

And she served as chairwoman of UF’s department of radiation oncology in Gainesville for 13 years, strengthening its clinical research efforts, building on its physics program and starting a cancer biology program.

But it’s the prospect and the promise of the new UF Proton Therapy Institute in Jacksonville that has Mendenhall, well, simply beaming. She is leading medical operations at the new facility, which treated its first patient Aug. 14 and will offer a more precise form of radiation that could reduce the risk of complications and improve cure rates in cancer patients (see

“I am so excited about this,” Mendenhall said. “I’ve always liked every job that I have had, but I think I am most excited about this. What we envision is a maximally efficient clinical and research operation to investigate the best use of protons and proton therapy.”

Using protons to combat tumors allows doctors to treat cancer more aggressively because they can apply a higher dose of radiation than they would with conventional therapy. The tightly focused treatment beam targets malignancies, yet inflicts little damage on surrounding tissues. As a result, many patients experience fewer side effects.

The targeted dose of radiation is of particular benefit when a tumor is located in sensitive areas like the lung, brain, head and neck, eye, liver, prostate or pancreas. Proton therapy is also effective in treating advanced tumors of the breast, cervix and rectum.

Only four other centers in the country offer this form of therapy.

Mendenhall, also now the associate chairwoman of the radiation oncology department in Jacksonville, was the inspiration behind the development of the UF Proton Therapy Institute, which also is affiliated with the UF Shands Cancer Center. She first suggested it back in 1998 and subsequently served on its steering committee.

“We’ve accumulated experience over the years, and technology, to create from the ground level a product that will be better than anything we have had in the past,” she said.

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