Proton therapy is effective in treating many types of cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.
When considering treatment options, it is important to read studies and gather information about each type of treatment. Studies of proton therapy have shown that it is effective in treating many types of tumors, including cancers of the prostate, brain, head and neck, central nervous system, lung, and gastrointestinal system as well as cancers that cannot be removed completely by surgery.1
Proton therapy is often the preferred option for treating solid tumors in children because protons can be controlled precisely so there is less radiation of normal tissues, helping prevent serious complications and lessening the chance of secondary tumors.2,3 Proton therapy research is ongoing and has shown promising results in the treatment of other tumors.
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The first step in your treatment plan is to discuss your options, including proton therapy, with your doctor to determine the best treatment for you. Your doctor may not be as familiar with proton therapy as other treatment options so be sure to familiarize yourself with the content on this site.
Below are a few questions to help you discuss proton therapy with your doctor:
Less radiation reaches the healthy tissue in front of the tumor, and almost none reaches the healthy tissue behind the tumor, resulting in less damage to healthy tissue.1
General proton therapy questions:
Proton therapy is a form of radiation therapy that destroys cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing—just like standard X-ray radiation. However, proton therapy uses protons—positively charged atomic particles—instead of the photons used in standard X-rays. Unlike X-rays, protons can be controlled to release much of their energy directly in the tumor, reducing damage to nearby healthy tissue.
As a result, patients can often receive higher doses and have few side effects from treatment.
Listen to Dr. Brian Chon explain proton therapy
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Protons release their energy at precise depths, depositing much of their energy at the tumor site. Because of their precision, they can target cancer tumors near the skin surface or deep inside the body. The peak of this proton-radiation dose (called the Bragg Peak) is set so it releases the radiation when it hits the tumor. Immediately after that point, the dose falls to almost zero. So less radiation reaches the healthy tissue in front of the tumor, and almost none reaches the healthy tissue behind the tumor, resulting in less damage to healthy tissue.1 Patients often experience few of the short- and long-term side effects that typically accompany standard X-ray radiation.1-7 In addition, because more energy can be deposited directly in the tumor, a higher dose can sometimes be delivered, leading to more effective treatment.1
Protons permanently damage cancer cells so they cannot divide nor grow. When protons reach the nucleus (or center) of cancer cells, they transfer energy to the cells' electrons causing a series of interactions, or ionizing events, that damage the DNA of the cancer cells.
Proton therapy is not experimental; in fact, it was approved in 1988 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat cancer patients. It has been used as a cancer treatment since its first medical application in the mid-1950s; Medicare and Medicaid began covering the procedure in 2000. To date, more than 90,000 people worldwide have received proton therapy at cancer centers in Europe, Asia, and the United States.
"Proton therapy is FDA-approved" - Dr. Brian Chon
In 1946, physicist Robert Wilson first proposed that protons could be used to deliver an increased dose of radiation to a cancer tumor while simultaneously decreasing the exposure of surrounding healthy tissue to radiation. By 1950, the first research trials were being conducted on patients in the US and Europe. Results were promising, but the inability of imaging technology to accurately "see" or locate many tumors and the inability to direct protons to sites deep within the body meant that only a few patients were appropriate candidates for the treatment. Advances in imaging, including computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and positron emission tomography (PET), now allow physicians to "see" deep inside the body and precisely define the location, size, and shape of tumors. This capability, coupled with improvements in proton technology, brought about today's growing interest in proton therapy as an important treatment option for cancer. The first hospital-based proton treatment center in the United States was built in 1990 at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California. As of May 2014, 14 facilities are operating in the United States, with 5 more scheduled to open in the next 2 years.
Proton therapy was first used to treat patients in Berkeley, California, in 1955 in a research setting. While proton therapy was promising, it wasn't until advances were made in imaging technology, such as CT, MRI, and PET scans, that doctors could accurately "see" the location, size, and shape of cancer tumors. Accurately locating tumors made it possible to leverage the precision of protons. The first proton therapy center in the United States opened at Loma Linda University Medical Center in 1990.
Since the first hospital-based proton therapy treatment center opened in California in 1990, nearly 35,000 people have received proton therapy in the United States, and more than 90,000 people worldwide.8 Experts conservatively estimate that about 250,000 cancer patients in the United States could benefit from proton therapy treatment.
Researchers around the world have studied the effectiveness of proton therapy. A growing number of studies report on the effectiveness of proton therapy and its benefits compared to other cancer treatments. The amount of research being conducted on proton therapy is rapidly increasing as more proton therapy centers open and more patient experiences become available.
Proton therapy can be used in combination with chemotherapy, as a follow-up treatment to surgery, and in combination with standard X-ray radiation treatment. ProCure Proton Therapy Centers have joined with several medical centers to provide patients with additional cancer services.
Potential side effects during or after proton therapy treatment are generally minor, less frequent, and less severe than those from standard X-ray radiation therapy. This is primarily because less healthy tissue is exposed to radiation in proton therapy. Depending on the site of your tumor, side effects may include skin irritation in the direct path of the proton radiation, tiredness, and hair loss in the area being treated. Patients should not feel pain or discomfort during treatment sessions. Your doctor will discuss with you the specific side effects that you may experience based on your treatment plan.
The medical community continues to conduct research studies on proton therapy. Major institutions such as MD Anderson Cancer Center and Massachusetts General Hospital have many ongoing clinical trials to help find improvements in treating cancer with proton therapy. As dedicated providers of proton therapy, ProCure Proton Therapy Centers are currently participating in a number of clinical trials. For more information on these trials, please click here. If you are interested in participating in one of these trials, please speak with a doctor or a nurse at a ProCure Proton Therapy Center.
Who is proton therapy for?
Certain types of cancer are more appropriate for proton therapy than others. While research continues to support using protons in more types of cancer tumors, they are primarily used to treat:
Proton therapy is particularly appropriate for treating tumors in children, who typically experience more serious short- and long-term side effects from radiation treatments than adults.
Learn more about tumor sites that can benefit from proton therapy
Proton therapy is not appropriate for all types of cancers or all patients. Proton therapy is most effective in treating solid tumors that are well defined and localized—those that have not spread to other areas of the body. If the tumor has spread (metastasized), proton therapy may still be a treatment option, depending on the extent of the metastasis and other factors. Only a healthcare provider can determine the best approach for a patient's unique condition.
Listen to Dr. Brian Chon describe some of the cancer types that can be treated with proton therapy
Proton therapy is particularly effective for children who need radiation therapy, and is considered the best way to deliver radiation in the pediatric population. Clinical studies indicate that proton therapy reduces the likelihood of growth and developmental problems and of secondary tumors, which can occur years later.3,5,9 Because a child's body is small and still growing and developing, the damage to nearby healthy tissue and organs from standard X-ray radiation can be harmful. This damage can cause growth abnormalities, reductions in IQ, and other complications.10 New tumors can also develop later in the child's life. A growing body of research is confirming the advantages of using proton therapy for children. Learn more »
Proton therapy can be used to treat recurrent cancers that standard X-ray radiation therapy cannot. Patients should discuss proton therapy with a board-certified radiation oncologist to determine if it can be beneficial. Proton therapy can also be a treatment option if you’ve already had a course of standard X-ray radiation and are unable to receive more.
Comparing Protons and Standard X-ray Radiation
Proton therapy and X-ray radiation therapy both treat cancer by killing cancer cells when they attempt to divide and multiply. However, there is an important difference. Because X-ray radiation releases its maximum dose of radiation quickly after penetrating the skin and continues to release radiation as it passes through your body beyond the tumor, it exposes more tissue to unwanted radiation, potentially causing more damage to healthy tissue and organs than proton therapy. Proton therapy delivers most of the radiation exactly at the tumor site and then stops. There is essentially no radiation exposure beyond the tumor site once the radiation has reached and covered the treatment area. With proton therapy, much less excess radiation is delivered to healthy tissues compared to X-ray radiation therapy.
X-rays and protons can be equally effective in destroying cancer tumors. The difference is that X-ray treatments damage more healthy tissue in the process. X-rays release their maximum dose of radiation soon after penetrating the skin, potentially damaging healthy tissue and organs on their way to the tumor and again as they pass through the body beyond it. Protons can be precisely directed to release much of their energy only when they reach the tumor. Because there is much less exposure to healthy tissue with protons, a higher dose often can be delivered, leading to more effective cancer treatment.1
Because proton beams deposit more of their energy directly in the tumor, less radiation reaches the healthy tissue in front of the tumor, and almost none reaches the healthy tissue behind it.1 This reduces the risk of short- and long-term side effects. In addition, because more radiation can be deposited directly in the tumor, a higher dose can be delivered when treating certain tumors with proton therapy, leading to more effective treatment.1
Coverage for Proton Therapy
Proton therapy is covered by Medicare and many private insurance providers. Each ProCure center has financial counselors who are dedicated to guiding you through the insurance process. Please contact us if you have questions about coverage.
Consultation at ProCure
We do our best to have you come to our center and speak with a physician as soon as possible, and most patients are able to schedule a consultation within one week of contacting us.