Because of the advanced capabilities of proton therapy and the collective expertise of Winship radiation oncologists, radiation physicists, dosimetrists, radiation therapists and more, patients will receive more powerful and effective radiation directly to the cancer cells and reduce exposure or risk to vital organs and healthy tissues. This reduces the risks of possible longer-term effects from treatment, with a goal of improved quality of life.
One key benefit of proton therapy is its use in treating children, whose growth can be affected by long-term side effects from radiation. Because proton therapy avoids areas of the body that don't need radiation, it can dramatically reduce the risk of new tumors or cancers developing, and risks of heart or lung disease, hormone problems, hearing loss, and many other effects.
In adult patients, a good example is the treatment of head and neck cancers, which can be a difficult treatment course with many short and long term side effects. Initial clinical experience has shown that proton therapy can reduce some of the side effects during the treatment course, like difficulty swallowing, mouth sores, the need for a temporary feeding tube, and reduce some of the long-term risks of treatment like dry mouth.
Types of Cancers Treated
The following is only a partial list of tumor types that may benefit from proton therapy. Proton therapy may be an option for other diagnoses and indications not listed below.
For hepatocellular carcinoma or cholangiocarcinoma, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the normal liver, which may reduce the risk of worsening liver function or enable safer treatment of more advanced liver tumors. For retroperitoneal sarcomas and some pancreatic cancers, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the normal intestines, which can reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting during radiation.
For chordomas, chondrosarcomas, Ewing's sarcoma, osteosarcoma, giant cell tumors and other bone sarcomas, proton therapy is often used to deliver a higher, more effective dose of radiation to these rare bone tumors while protecting nearby sensitive areas like the spinal cord.
Brain and spine tumors
For meningiomas, low grade gliomas, schwannomas, pituitary tumors, ependymomas, medulloblastomas, spinal cord tumors, other brain and spine tumors, proton therapy reduces radiation to the normal healthy brain which may reduce side effects like problems with memory or hormone imbalances after radiation.
For primarily left sided breast cancer and the treatment of lymph nodes near the heart, proton therapy reduces radiation to the heart to reduce the risk of heart disease after radiation in select cases.
In many children, proton therapy reduces the risk of future tumors or cancers, and reduces problems in growth and development of normal organs in cancer survivors.
Head and neck cancer
For tonsil, base of tongue, nasopharynx, nasal cavity, other sinus tumors and some larynx or hypopharynx cancers, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the mouth and swallowing muscles in some cases, to reduce mouth sores or the need for a feeding tube during radiation, and problems like dry mouth or difficulty swallowing after radiation. In some tumor locations, proton therapy can better treat difficult tumors close to the eyes, brain, or other sensitive areas.
For Hodgkin's lymphoma or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and depending on the location in the body, proton therapy can reduce unnecessary radiation to normal areas like the heart, lungs, intestines, or mouth to reduce the risks of long-term side effects after radiation, including reducing the risk of future tumors or cancers.
For rectal cancer or anal cancer, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the bone marrow, bladder, genitals, and normal intestines to reduce side effects during and after radiation in some patients.
In some patients, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the rectum and bladder to reduce side effects during and after radiation.
Sarcomas can arise in any part of the body. In some locations, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to normal skin, muscles, bone, and other nearby areas to reduce certain side effects during treatment and the risks of long-term side effects after radiation.
For esophageal cancer, gastroesophageal junction cancer, lung cancer, thymoma or thymic carcinomas, proton therapy reduces unnecessary radiation to the heart and normal lungs to reduce the risks of heart disease or lung problems after radiation in some patients.
In some patients, a second course of radiation to the same or overlapping area may be recommended. Proton therapy reduces radiation to normal areas that have already been treated to reduce some of the risks of serious complications from additional radiation.
Header image of treatment room: ©Prakash Patel. Courtesy of Stantec Architecture.
Request an Appointment
Referring physicians and patients with questions about proton therapy and its appropriateness for their individual cancers can schedule a consultation with a Winship radiation oncology expert by calling 1-833-3PROTON (1-833-377-6866).