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Mayo Clinic launches Proton Beam Therapy Program

The next chapter in cancer treatment

Mayo Clinic introduces its Proton Beam Therapy Program, with treatment for patients available in new facilities in Minnesota and Arizona.

Proton beam therapy expands Mayo Clinic's cancer care capabilities. In properly selected patients — especially children and young adults and those with cancers located close to critical organs and body structures — proton beam therapy is an advance over traditional radiotherapy.

Mayo Clinic's Proton Beam Therapy Program differs from most other programs in the United States — it exclusively features intensity-modulated proton beam therapy with pencil beam scanning. This, the latest form of proton beam therapy, uses spot scanning to deposit streams of protons back and forth through a tumor, closely targeting the tumor and sparing healthy tissue.

Every patient's tumor is unique. Mayo Clinic doctors and other specialists develop an individualized plan for each patient. Proton beam therapy will be the best option for certain patients and tumor types while others may benefit from a different approach — another type of radiation therapy or no radiation at all. Mayo Clinic patients have a full range of cancer treatment options.

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.

Mayo Clinic's Proton Beam Therapy Program is a new addition to the Mayo Clinic Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center with a multisite presence, with locations in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.

The program differs from most other proton therapy programs in the United States because it exclusively features intensity-modulated proton beam therapy using pencil beam scanning.

This technology is an advance over current radiation and other proton therapy methods. The pencil beam conforms more closely to the tumor, better sparing surrounding healthy tissue from harm, and "painting" small spots of protons back and forth through a tumor. The accelerated protons fill the depth and contour of the tumor, allowing advantages over most other proton therapy systems, including:

  • Greater control of radiation doses
  • Shorter treatment times
  • Reduced side effects

The precision of pencil beam scanning makes it especially beneficial in treating tumors adjacent to critical and sensitive organs and structures, such as the brain, eye and spinal cord.

All eight treatment rooms at Mayo Clinic's two facilities feature this advanced technology.


One of Mayo Clinic's priorities is to continue to advance the science of proton therapy. Mayo Clinic proton beam therapy researchers will:

  • Conduct clinical studies
  • Enter patients on a registry to measure outcomes and improve care models and services for cancer patients
  • Foster collaborative research with other centers worldwide

How you can help

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization and leader in medical care, research and education. We are funding our Proton Beam Therapy Program with our own investments and the help of generous benefactors.

We believe proton beam therapy is a powerful cancer treatment that will help many people survive their cancer with fewer side effects and complications. Thanks to our benefactors, Mayo Clinic Cancer Center is making exciting strides in cancer therapy.

Join us to create a lasting legacy in the battle against cancer by funding the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program. Your philanthropic investment will place you among visionary supporters improving cancer therapy for generations to come.

Find out more

The proton beam facility at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, opened in summer 2015. The facility at Mayo Clinic in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona, opened in March 2016.

Four treatment rooms at each facility

Each facility has four proton beam treatment rooms equipped with pencil beam scanning and a large proton beam-generating synchrotron.

Proton Beam Therapy Program — Mayo Clinic's campus in Arizona

The proton beam therapy facility is located east of the Mayo Clinic Specialty Building on the Phoenix campus.

Proton Beam Therapy Program — Mayo Clinic's campus in Minnesota

The proton beam therapy facility in Minnesota is located in downtown Rochester on the Mayo Clinic campus, just northeast of Mayo Clinic Hospital, Methodist Campus (the corner of Second Street Northwest and First Avenue Northwest), in the Jacobson Building.

The Jacobson Building is connected to other campus buildings by an underground walkway (subway) and skyway system.

The Rochester building is named in honor of Richard O. Jacobson, a grateful patient, in recognition of his transformative gift to Mayo Clinic.

How does Mayo Clinic decide which patients receive proton beam therapy?

The Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program is unique in that it is one of few hospital-based programs. This means that your Mayo Clinic radiation oncologist will have a full range of treatment options.

Proton beam therapy will be the best option for certain patients and tumor types while others may benefit from a different approach — another type of radiation therapy or no radiation at all. Mayo Clinic doctors will recommend treatment options tailored to your individual situation, as we have done for more than 150 years.

Is Mayo Clinic the first institution to use pencil beam scanning for the treatment of cancer patients?

Only a few treatment facilities in the United States offer this advanced proton therapy technique. All eight treatment rooms at Mayo Clinic's two facilities feature pencil beam scanning. Mayo is the first institution to operate pencil beam scanning facilities in the Midwest and Southwest.

What types of cancer benefit most from proton beam therapy?

The conditions Mayo Clinic anticipates considering for proton beam therapy as a treatment option include:

Bone cancer

Brain tumors

Brain tumors, pediatric

Breast cancer

Esophageal cancer

Eye melanoma/ocular melanoma

Gastrointestinal cancers

Gynecological cancers

Head and neck tumors

Liver cancer

Lung cancer


Pediatric cancers

Prostate cancer

Soft tissue cancer

Spine cancer

Does Mayo Clinic treat pediatric cancers with proton beam therapy?

Yes, children who have cancer are among those who will benefit the most from proton beam therapy.

Today, many pediatric cancers have significant cure rates — some higher than 90 percent. Proton beam therapy is targeted and helps to spare healthy tissue from the effects of radiation. People who must undergo radiation therapy early in life are less likely to have long-term side effects and complications from proton beam therapy, such as secondary malignancies, than with conventional radiation therapy.

How do I know if I'm a candidate for proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic?

People who would like to be considered for proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic must schedule an appointment for a radiation oncology consultation. Our doctors and other specialists meet with the patient, review the case and recommend the treatment course they feel is best, whether that treatment is proton beam therapy or another option.

Do I need a referral from my doctor to be seen at Mayo Clinic?

You do not need a referral from a doctor. You can contact our Appointment Office and request a radiation oncology consultation.

What do I need to bring to a radiation oncology consultation at Mayo Clinic?

Our patient appointment coordinator will provide you with a list of medical records needed in advance of your appointment. This may include but is not limited to:

  • A letter from your local provider summarizing your medical condition
  • A complete record of your immunizations to date
  • Copies of medical record information from health care providers outside of Mayo Clinic
  • Radiologic films, CDs, DVDs, videos and written radiologic reports related to the clinical question
  • Pathology slides and written pathology reports from relevant biopsies

Please let us know if you have any metal hardware in your body, including pacemakers and hip replacements.

Does health insurance cover proton beam therapy?

Medicare generally covers proton beam therapy. Coverage varies by insurance company and disease type.

We will work with each patient and the health insurance company to determine if proton beam therapy will be covered, if that is the recommended treatment. This includes any appeals process with the insurance company.

What is it like at Mayo Clinic? How do I get there? Where do I stay?

We want to help make your travel to Mayo Clinic as easy as possible. We provide information and a variety of services to help.

Our radiation oncology programs, including proton beam therapy, have patient experience coordinators to help you manage your stay.

Additionally, Mayo Clinic has free Concierge Services in Minnesota to help plan your stay, and fee-based Patient Travel Services.

What can I expect during proton beam therapy?

Learn about proton beam therapy including possible side effects, pretreatment planning, treatment sessions and follow-up care, and how we determine if treatment is affecting your cancer.

Why choose Mayo Clinic for proton beam therapy?

At Mayo Clinic, the needs of the patient come first. Our doctors and other specialists consult with their colleagues about each patient's condition and recommend treatment options based on their experience and evidence-based medicine. Proton beam therapy is an additional treatment option and will be recommended when it is the best choice for the patient's condition.

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care like they've never experienced. See the stories of satisfied Mayo Clinic patients.