Frequently Asked Questions

Here are answers to common questions regarding proton therapy and the Emory Proton Therapy Center.

What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is a specialized form of external radiation, an important part of successful treatment of many types of cancer. All radiation treatments work by damaging the DNA of cancerous cells. Most radiation treatments use X-rays, but proton therapy uses protons, which are particles from the center of atoms.

How does proton therapy differ from tradition radiation therapy treatment?

The goal of radiation treatment is to direct radiation where it is needed and reduce or avoid radiation to tissue and organs that don't need it. The side effects and risks of treatment are mainly related to how well the radiation can be concentrated where it is meant to go. Compared to X-ray based radiation treatments, proton therapy can better concentrate the radiation dose in the target and reduce or avoid radiation to normal tissues and organs.

Is proton treatment painful and what are the side effects?

Proton therapy is painless and non-invasive. In appropriately selected patients, proton therapy treatment may reduce side effects during and after treatment and reduce long-term risks or complications from radiation.

Is proton therapy right for every patient?

Proton therapy is one treatment option that effectively treats certain types of cancer and may be appropriate for some patients. Other radiation treatments may be the best option for other patients. Winship Cancer Institute radiation oncologists consider proton therapy as one option that can be integrated into an overall plan of care coordinated with a team of doctors from different specialties. Proton therapy may be integrated with surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy or other drug therapies, or it may be the only treatment required.

Who may benefit from proton therapy treatment?

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.

How many patients will be treated in the first year?

At the Emory Proton Therapy Center, we will have the capacity to treat close to 400 patients over the course of our first year of operation. Over time, our capacity for patient treatments will grow. Many of the patients we expect to treat are patients who are already receiving care within Winship Cancer Institute. But we also work with specialists outside of Emory, whether they're across town or across the world, to provide care for patients.

How would I request an appointment?

Patients can refer themselves for evaluation. To schedule a consultation, call 1-833-3PROTON (1-833-377-6866).

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