Proton radiotherapy, or proton therapy, is an advanced form of cancer treatment. Its importance lies in a very precise and controlled approach by limiting the doses of radiation to the affected tissues. This is the main reason why it is especially recommended for paediatric cancer treatments. In addition, its efficacy is remarkable in cases of malignant tumours in adults that are located in the brain or close to vital organs. The architecture of the Proton Therapy Centres plays a supporting role in the effectiveness of the treatment. Proton Therapy Centres are designed to generate ecosystems of functional, comfortable, and relaxing spaces for patients. This contributes to improving their recovery and emotional well-being during the treatment process, which can last several weeks.
The Design of Proton Therapy Centres
Here are some important aspects to consider in the design of Proton Therapy Centres:
The architectural project accommodates the requirements of the high-tech equipment for proton therapy and also requires a humanistic approach that places the experience of the patient and their companions at the centre. Patient care is also fulfilled through architecture, and the well-being of the staff involved is important in improving processes. It is not only about fighting disease, but also about creating an environment capable of improving health, and this is where we can be decisive as architects.
The project is based on the incorporation of fundamental aspects, such as the analysis of patient and staff flows, reception, welcome and waiting areas adapted to different needs, the incorporation of natural light, acoustic and thermal comfort, air quality, and materials. The patient experience must be carefully designed so that their well-being and privacy in each space of the centre is ensured throughout the entire treatment.
Proton accelerators and associated equipment are complex and high tech. The architectural design must incorporate adequate and specific spaces to house such equipment, taking into account their technical requirements and subsequent maintenance or possible upgrades. In addition, proton therapy benefits greatly from advanced imaging techniques for optimal and personalised treatment planning. The architecture must allow for the integration of spaces where the preliminary phases of diagnosis, consultation, follow-up, and preparation of patients can be carried out.
In these Centres, the design of the circulatory flows for patients and staff establishes efficiency in the function and connection of the different spaces, improving comfort at each stage of treatment. To this end, spaces with different functions and charactertistics are incorporated at each stage: consultations, reception areas, differentiated waiting areas, spaces for diagnostic imaging equipment, preparation areas, and work and meeting spaces for the staff. It is essential to integrate the key space into these flows: the area that houses the proton therapy equipment, as well as the treatment room.
These Centres have expensive, state-of-the-art equipment which are managed by highly specialised professionals and must be designed to maintain the highest possible level of activity to maximise the number of patients seen and reduce wait times.
Collaborative work between specialists from different fields, such as doctors, physicists, etc., is key to advancement in proton therapy treatment. For this reason, the Centres that offer such treatment are also places for research, where different health professionals contribute to technical and technological innovation focused on proton radiotherapy.
The architectural design of these Centres must incorporate flexibility as a premise. This treatment, and the technology it uses, is advancing rapidly and the architecture that houses it must be able to adapt to incorporate any new spaces that may be needed.
In addition, architecture plays a vital role in ensuring the safety, efficiency, and comfort of the Centre’s staff, patients, and their companions. Proper design ensures that proton therapy can be used optimally for the treatment of various diseases and contributes to the overall success of this advanced radiotherapy approach.
Safety is of paramount importance in any medical facility, but in Proton Therapy Centres, the handling and control of radiation is essential. Specific authorisations from the Nuclear Safety Council (CSN in the Spanish acronym) are required to ensure that the highest standards of radiation safety are being met throughout the facility. The CSN performs a detailed security assessment to ensure that all required security measures are properly implemented. This includes the review of radiation protection systems, emergency plans, and operating procedures. Architecture is the tool capable of ensuring safety for staff and patients throughout the facility. To avoid unnecessary exposure, radiation containment is integrated into the architectural design along with all other technical requirements. In particular, the design and calculation of the equipment room must ensure such safety. The integration of appropriate shielding and barrier systems to contain radiation and avoid unnecessary exposure is a must in Proton Therapy Centre projects.
Examples of Proton Therapy Centres
Our studio, with experience and specialisation in hospital architecture, is involved in different stages of Proton Therapy Centre projects in various locations. We have designed the Quirónsalud Proton Therapy Centre in Pozuelo de Alarcón, the first in Spain, with a surface area of 2,397.25 m2 in which Proteus One® equipment by IBA has been installed, including a synchrotron that generates and accelerates protons up to energy levels of 230 MeV. Cancer treatment is one of the health priorities of the Spanish National Health System, with proton therapy being one of the treatments that has proven to be effective. In this context, we have been awarded Lot 2 of the tender for the Proton Therapy Unit at the Marqués de Valdecilla University Hospital (HUMV) in Cantabria. We have also participated in the tenders for the different projects of the new Proton Therapy Centres underway in Spain: The Proton Therapy Unit at the Donostia Ospitalea – Osakidetza in the Basque Country, the University Hospital of Fuenlabrada in Madrid, the Proton Therapy Centre of Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, and the planned Centre at the La Fé Hospital in Valencia.
The incorporation of proton therapy into hospital architecture represents an exciting opportunity to improve the quality of care and well-being of cancer patients. Our team is committed to creating functional, safe, and patient-centred spaces that take full advantage of the benefits of this innovative technology.