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Perkins named director of proton therapy center

The S. Lee Kling Proton Beam Center at Siteman Cancer Center. The S. Lee Kling Proton Beam Center at Siteman Cancer Center.
Stephanie Perkins, MD

Stephanie M. Perkins, MD, a Washington University associate professor of radiation oncology, has been named director of the S. Lee Kling Proton Therapy Center at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. She began her new role March 1.

Proton therapy is a precise form of radiation that targets tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissues, making it ideal for treating pediatric cancer patients, as well as adults with tumors near sensitive locations, such as the heart, brain, spinal cord or pelvis. The Siteman facility is the only proton therapy center in the region.

Perkins, whose expertise encompasses proton therapy and pediatric oncology, also serves as chief of the pediatric radiotherapy service and director of the radiation oncology residency program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. She treats children through Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and adults at Siteman Cancer Center.

Perkins will oversee the opening of the proton center’s second unit in summer 2020. The technology will include pencil-beam scanning, the newest generation of proton therapy.

“We’re happy to be in the final stages of construction on our second unit, which will offer the most advanced proton therapy yet,” she said. “The ultimate beneficiaries are our patients, who have access to the most advanced technology. This achievement is possible due to our dedicated team of Washington University physicians, physicists and other care team members.”

Pencil-beam scanning delivers proton therapy in a single, narrow proton beam aimed directly at the tumor and adjusted for intensity. The beam then “paints” the radiation dose on the tumor. Alternatively, Siteman’s first proton therapy system, available since 2013, precisely targets the tumor using special devices that scatter the proton beam across the tumor. The scattering system will continue to work well for most patients who are candidates for proton therapy. Both technologies allow for extremely precise adjustments to the radiation beam, so physicians can precisely target tumors while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue.

“We and our patients are fortunate to have Dr. Perkins at the helm of our proton therapy program,” said Jeff Michalski, MD, the Carlos A. Perez Distinguished Professor of Radiation Oncology at the School of Medicine and vice chair and director of clinical programs for the Department of Radiation Oncology. “She is an outstanding physician and has the talent and dedication required to lead our proton therapy center and contribute nationally to the advancement of knowledge and research in this therapeutic area.”

Perkins graduated from the University of Tennessee College of Medicine and completed her residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, where she has been a faculty member since 2012. She has served in leadership positions at the Pediatric Proton Therapy Consortium Registry, the Children’s Oncology Group and the National Cancer Institute Workshop on Proton Therapy for Children.

The S. Lee Kling Proton Therapy Center is on Siteman’s main campus but is accessible to patients treated at any of Siteman’s five satellite locations.

The new proton therapy system will complement its predecessor as part of an array of radiation therapy options. Other specialized technologies available at Siteman include MRI-guided radiation therapy, CT-guided radiation therapy, Gamma Knife radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiation therapy. All are forms of external beam radiation therapy. Another available option, brachytherapy, involves implanting radioactive materials inside or next to the tumor. The type of radiation therapy used in a patient’s treatment depends on where cancer cells are located. Washington University radiation oncologists at Siteman select the most appropriate technology based upon a patient’s individual needs.

The proton therapy center was named after the late S. Lee Kling, a visionary St. Louisan who traveled to the East Coast to receive proton therapy for an eye tumor. Kling, a former chairman of The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s board of directors, believed the therapy should be more accessible and available to patients in St. Louis.