With September being both Prostate Cancer and Childhood Cancer Awareness month, the discussion about proton therapy couldn’t be timelier. Proton therapy is especially effective at treating these two types of cancer and is more precise than other types of treatment.
Using a 30-foot-tall machine that rotates 360 degrees, experts have calibrated the proton beam equipment to submillimeter accuracy. The machine accelerates protons extracted from hydrogen atoms and then creates a proton beam line. Protons delivered to the tumor destroy cancer cells but more importantly do so while minimizing damage to the surrounding healthy tissue. Treatments usually last for 15 – 40 minutes with an average complete course of treatment lasting from six – eight weeks.
Additional advantages of proton therapy include:
Noninvasiveness with a decrease in side effects
Reduced exposure and damage to vital organs
Effectiveness in treating cancers in sensitive areas and for children whose bodies are still growing
Lower cancer recurrence rate for many patients
An increase in patients’ tolerance of other therapies such as chemotherapy
Effectiveness in treating areas previously treated with radiation in some cases
There are only 23 proton therapy centers in the country, with 11 centers in development. The Texas Center for Proton Therapy (TCPT) brings this technology to North Texas and has the ability to help more than 100 patients per day between its three treatment rooms.
Dr. Andrew Lee, medical director at the Texas Center for Proton Therapy, says that young patients are more sensitive to the effects of radiation. “Since children are still growing, even low doses of radiation may have profound early and late effects that can impact their growth, cosmesis, neurocognitive abilities, hormonal function and the risk of subsequent cancers. Proton therapy can deliver therapeutic radiation doses while minimizing exposure to these sensitive tissues and therefore may reduce the risk of early and late side effects when compared to more conventional x-ray therapies.”
While it may be especially beneficial for children, the ideal candidate for this therapy is any cancer patient that may need radiation as part of his or her overall cancer treatment. Lee says, “This includes younger and older patients that may require high doses of radiation to adequately control their tumors especially if their tumor is located near sensitive structures such as the brainstem, spinal cord and heart. Proton therapy may also help patients that require other therapies such as surgery and/or chemotherapy. Minimizing the side effects of radiation therapy with protons can help these patients better tolerate their overall cancer treatment course. Furthermore, protons have an important role in those patients who wish to minimize unnecessary radiation exposure to nearby normal tissues even if the total dose is relatively low. Sometimes avoiding radiation exposure to normal tissues all together is vital.”