About proton beam therapy

Radiation therapy, alone or combined with other treatment, is an important treatment for many cancers. More than half of all cancer patients receive one or more courses of radiation therapy as part of their treatment.

In radiation therapy, intense amounts of energy are directed at cancer cells to destroy the genetic material that controls cell growth. Both healthy and cancerous cells are affected by radiation, so the goal is to radiate only the targeted cancer cells.

X-rays are the type of energy used in conventional radiation therapy. The electromagnetic waves in X-rays pass through most objects because of their physical properties, but this radiation can damage healthy tissue in the body. Doctors often reduce X-ray doses from the optimal cancer-fighting level to protect surrounding healthy tissue from harm.

More radiation, with less risk

In proton therapy, energy is carried by protons — the positively charged particles in an atom. Protons are raised to a high energy level by a powerful machine called a particle accelerator.

Unlike the photons in X-rays, proton beams stop after releasing their energy within their target. A proton beam can be much more finely controlled, so higher doses of radiation can be more safely delivered to tumors with less risk to healthy tissue.

In properly selected patients, proton beam therapy has clear advantages in terms of short- and long-term complications. This is especially important when tumors are located next to critical organs.

Proton therapy has been shown to be beneficial in the treatment of many kinds of tumors, including brain, breast, esophageal, eye, gastrointestinal, gynecological, head and neck, liver, lung, lymphoma, prostate, soft tissue, spine and many pediatric cancers.

Children with cancer stand to benefit the most from proton beam therapy. Children can have the greatest long-term harm from conventional radiation therapy since their organs are still developing. Delayed effects of X-ray therapy in children can include growth problems, hearing and vision loss, radiation-induced cancers, and heart disease.