Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer May Help Reduce Risk of Heart Disease

Oklahoma Proton Center Building

Treating lung cancer patients with proton therapy may help reduce the risk of radiation-induced heart diseases, suggests a new study from Penn Medicine. The trial, which looked at more than 200 patients, found that patients treated with proton therapy had fewer mini-strokes and fewer heart attacks versus those treated with other forms of radiation such as IMRT.*

“This shows us another potential benefit of proton therapy for lung cancer patients,” said Dr. Timothy Kegelman, MD, Ph.D., and chief resident in the Department of Radiation Oncology in. the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We know proton has the ability to minimize radiation doses to surrounding organs like the heart. And these latest findings suggest that sparing correlates with fewer cardiac problems compared to conventional therapy, ” Kegelman said.

The study found an 87% reduction in the number of patients experiencing post-treatment mini-strokes, also known as transient ischemic attacks, when treated with proton therapy instead of photon therapy.

The difference is explained by the amount of radiation that the heart is exposed to during treatment. With proton therapy, the treating physician can precisely target the cancer cells and stop the radiation inside the tumor. With photon or X-Ray based treatments such as IMRT or Cyberknife, the radiation doesn’t stop. It thus can travel through the tumor, hitting healthy tissue and organs that otherwise would not be exposed to radiation during proton therapy treatment.

This difference can be seen in the image below, representing a treatment plan for lung cancer:

“As radiation oncologists, our goal is always to deliver more radiation to the tumor and less radiation to healthy tissue,” said Dr. John Chang, Medical Director of Oklahoma Proton Center in Oklahoma City, OK.

“While we have gotten better over the years at being more precise with photon therapy treatment such as IMRT, we will never be as precise with that as with proton therapy. The physics always work in favor of proton therapy, and this means the side effects will tend to be less with proton therapy.”

Dr. Chang encourages any patient prescribed radiation as an option for their cancer to look into proton therapy. “It is so important for patients to consider all of their options before making a treatment decision and to speak with physicians who specialize in the form of treatment they are considering. I tell that to every patient I see, and I encourage that for all patients.”

For lung cancer patients, specific radiation treatment concerns include side effects such as esophagitis, pneumonitis, and cardiac toxicity.

Anyone interested in learning more about proton therapy for lung cancer can contact the team at Oklahoma Proton Center at 405-773-6700 or via their website at

*Source: Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

Dr. John Han-Chih Chang M.D - Oklahoma Proton Center
Dr. John Chang – Medical Director, Oklahoma Proton Center


Proton Therapy is the most precise form of radiation treatment for cancer available today. The first patient was treated with protons in 1954. Today, at least 36 centers in the United States offer proton therapy, including most top-ranked cancer centers. Proton therapy can be used to treat a variety of disease sites, including breast, lung, prostate, head and neck, brain, esophageal, liver, rectal, lymphoma, and other cancers.


Oklahoma Proton Center is one of the leaders in proton therapy, having treated nearly 4,000 patients from around the world since opening in August of 2009. The staff and doctors at Oklahoma Proton Center are some of the most experienced in the country. The center features four state of the art treatment rooms and can treat as many as 100+ patients per day.

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