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The latest chapter in radiation treatment

Every person's tumor is unique. At Mayo Clinic, one of the first decisions specialists make with you after your diagnosis is whether or not radiation is appropriate. If so, Mayo Clinic offers a wide range of radiation treatments, including radioactive implants (brachytherapy), traditional radiation (photons) and proton therapy. For many people, strategically administered conventional radiation is the best treatment. But others require a different form of radiation, especially those with tumors next to and in vital organs, those who are sensitive to radiation's side effects, and children, whose tissues are still developing.

At Mayo Clinic, you'll work with your doctor and a team of specialists dedicated to developing an individualized plan that is best for your specific needs. Together, you will plot a treatment course that ensures that you receive the treatment with the highest success rate and fewest side effects.

Mayo Clinic specialists have a wide range of therapies available to you, based on your condition, needs and, in some cases, genetics. Choices include surgery, chemotherapy, traditional radiation and proton therapy. You may receive one or a combination, depending on your needs.

If your treatment calls for radiation, you are far from alone. More than half of all people with cancer receive radiation therapy. The reason is simple: It's effective. Radiation directs intense energy at cancer cells to destroy the genetic material that controls cell growth.

Unfortunately, radiation affects both healthy and cancerous cells. The main advantage of proton therapy is that it can deliver higher doses to the cancer cells while minimally affecting healthy cells.

More radiation, with less risk

Traditional X-ray treatment delivers radiation to everything in its path. That means tissue in front of and behind the tumor receives some damaging radiation. Most adult bodies can absorb and repair such collateral damage. But if your tumor is next to or in a vital organ, such as your brain or heart, traditional radiation can pose additional risks.

It also poses additional risks to children. They are more sensitive to the effects of radiation therapy as their bodies are still growing and developing. Compared to X-ray radiation therapy, proton therapy radiates fewer normal, healthy cells. This can help avoid health issues later in life, such as reduced growth, hearing and vision loss, heart disease and additional cancers.

Proton therapy is more precise.

Proton therapy uses the positively charged particles in an atom (protons) that release their energy within the target: the tumor. There is lower entrance radiation and virtually none travels beyond the tumor. Because proton beams can be much more finely controlled, specialists can safely deliver higher doses of radiation to tumors when needed.

Proton therapy is 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.

Proton beam therapy can treat a wide range of conditions, depending on the tumor type and the person.

At Mayo Clinic, you'll work with a team of specialists to develop the treatment that has the best success rate based on your specific cancer and your distinct needs. Proton therapy is just one tool in a very large toolbox.

In specific cases, specialists at Mayo Clinic may decide that proton therapy is the best course of action to treat one of the many conditions listed below.

The Proton Beam Therapy Program is directed by the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in the country with a multisite presence, with locations in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota.

Mayo Clinic's proton beam program incorporates advanced techniques, such as biological dose modeling to ensure you get the exact amount of radiation you need and in-room image guidance to deliver it exactly where you need it. Mayo Clinic experts also use adaptive planning when indicated. With adaptive planning, after each session, a specialist examines how your tumor changes so your next treatment can be adapted to precisely target its new shape.

For people with tumors in or near their lungs, Mayo Clinic's proton program uses an advanced technique called gating. The technique images the lungs during breathing and delivers radiation only when the lungs are at a specific point in the respiratory cycle, ensuring that only the tumor — and not healthy lung tissue — receives radiation.

Mayo Clinic's proton program uses only pencil beam scanning, the most precise form of proton delivery. The pencil beam conforms more closely to the tumor, so specialists can "paint" small spots of protons back and forth through a tumor. The accelerated protons fill the depth and contour of the tumor. 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.

At Mayo Clinic, you'll be cared for by a team of specialists from different fields who work together to determine your treatment options. This team approach means your care is coordinated to meet your needs so that you receive the treatment that's best for you.

Having a multidisciplinary team of experts on your side means that all of your doctors are working toward the same goal. This is especially beneficial when it comes to coordinating complex treatment protocols involving multiple therapies.


Mayo Clinic is leading the way in developing strategies to reduce the number of treatments needed for specific kinds of cancer. For instance, when you're prescribed a radiation dose, it's broken down into small increments called fractions. Breast cancer treatment can be divided into 25 fractions. Prostate cancer treatment can be more than 35.

Through research into the power of proton beams, Mayo Clinic experts are finding ways to reduce breast cancer treatment to between three and five fractions and prostate cancer treatment to five. That shortens the length of treatments from up to two months to one or two weeks.

Mayo Clinic researchers also monitor all proton beam therapy patients and gather data about side effects, tumor control, well-being and more. Researchers use this large database to develop better delivery techniques, care models and services for people with cancer.

Unfortunately, today's best cancer treatment protocols don't yet meet the needs of every person with cancer. To help these patients, Mayo Clinic works with partners across the nation to conduct clinical trials that use experimental treatments. This partnership between institutions and patients can have an immediate impact while developing more-effective treatments options for the future.

How you can help

Mayo Clinic is a nonprofit organization and leader in medical care, research and education. The Proton Beam Therapy Program is funded with Mayo Clinic investments and the help of generous benefactors.

Proton beam therapy is a powerful cancer treatment that helps many people survive cancer with fewer side effects and complications. Thanks to committed benefactors, Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center is making exciting strides in cancer therapy. For instance, Richard Jacobson's generous gift helped establish the Proton Beam Therapy Program at Mayo Clinic, and Lawrence and Marilyn Matteson strengthened it so children could have access to this powerful therapy.

Help 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.

The proton beam facilities at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, and Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona, each house their own particle accelerator that drives protons to nearly the speed of light before delivering therapeutic radiation to your tumor.

Four treatment rooms at each facility

Each facility has four proton beam treatment rooms equipped with pencil beam scanning that operate up to 16 hours a day. That means you receive treatment as quickly and as efficiently as possible.

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, so you can get to other appointments, hotels, restaurants and shopping without ever going outside.

The building is named in honor of Richard 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 one of very few hospital-based programs in the United States. This means highly specialized radiation oncologists work in a multidisciplinary environment that considers all your needs. At Mayo Clinic, your radiation oncologist will have a full range of treatment options and provide guidance for optimal care.

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 specialists will work with you to develop the most effective treatment options tailored to your individual situation.

What types of cancer benefit most from proton beam therapy?

Pediatric tumors are among the most beneficial to treat with proton beam therapy, as it imparts less damage to a child's still-developing organs. Tumors near the brain also can highly benefit from proton beam therapy because there is no exit radiation to cause additional tissue damage. However, a wide range of cancers may benefit from proton beam therapy, and your oncologist will work with you to develop the treatment plan most appropriate for your cancer and your needs.

Does Mayo Clinic treat pediatric cancers with proton beam therapy?

Yes. Children who have cancer are among those who 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, such as secondary cancers, with proton beam therapy 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. Mayo Clinic doctors and other specialists will review your case and consult with you to discuss all treatment options. Together, you will develop a treatment course that best fits your needs and condition, 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 the Mayo Clinic 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.

Mayo Clinic specialists work with each patient and the health insurance company to determine if proton beam therapy is 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?

Mayo Clinic wants to help make your travel to Mayo Clinic as easy as possible. Travel specialists provide information and a variety of services to help.

Mayo Clinic’s radiation oncology programs, including proton beam therapy, have patient experience coordinators to help you manage your stay. Your doctors will take the time to get to know you and understand your treatment goals. Your treatment plans take your values and preferences into account.

Additionally, Mayo Clinic has free Concierge Services in Minnesota to help plan your stay, and also offers 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 specialists determine whether treatment is affecting your cancer.

Why choose Mayo Clinic for proton beam therapy?

At Mayo Clinic, the needs of the patient come first.

Each year, almost 120,000 people with cancer receive care at Mayo Clinic. This experience means your doctors are equipped with the knowledge and resources to provide you with exactly the care you need.

Mayo Clinic 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 one of many treatments options and is recommended when it is the best choice for the patient's needs and 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.