Things You Need to Know About Proton Therapy
With the advancement of technology, people now have a new treatment for cancer tumors—proton therapy. Although the treatment has been used since the mid-1950s, it was only in 1988 that it received US Food and Drugs Administration or FDA approval. In 1991, the first hospital-based proton therapy treatment center started operating in California.
By May 2018, the United States already had 28 active proton therapy locations or centers. It is estimated that by 2030, between 300,000 and 600,000 patients will be treated with proton therapy. Learn more about the treatment below.
What It Is and How It Works
Proton therapy is a newer type of radiation treatment. It uses protons to target and destroy tumors more precisely than X-ray radiation treatment. When the positively charged atomic particles (protons) are delivered, they will focus more energy on the tumor itself with less radiation to the surrounding tissues. This makes proton therapy less harmful than X-ray radiation.
When using X-rays, radiation can damage healthy tissues on their way into and out of the cancer cells. With proton therapy, there is less risk of radiation exposure and damage to healthy tissues such as those in the brain, eyes, heart, major blood vessels and nerves, and spinal cord.
Types of Cancer It Treats
Experts say that proton therapy can be used to treat either cancerous or benign tumors. These tumors shouldn’t have spread and must not be located in tricky areas such as near the eyes, brain, or spinal cord.
Proton therapy can be used to treat breast, prostate, lung, liver, pancreatic, thoracic, and head and neck cancers. And although it is said that the tumors must not be located near the brain or eyes, proton therapy is also commonly used for treating sarcomas, melanoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, or other cancers around the eye. Aside from these, researchers are still trying to find out what other types of cancers proton therapy can treat.
What to Expect Before and During the Treatment
To plan the treatment, the patient needs to undergo computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Technicians will mark parts of the patient’s body with temporary ink to help the medical team position it for the session. The actual proton therapy treatment may only take a minute, but the preparations (CT scans, MRI, positioning of the body) can take up to 45 minutes.
Once the patient is ready for the treatment, the medical team would have to leave the room to operate the proton beam machine and protect themselves from radiation. But they can still see and hear the patient through a video system. During the session, the patient will not feel the proton beam as it treats the tumor.
Although there is limited research that compares the safeness of proton therapy to traditional radiation treatment, some experts believe that proton therapy is safer than the latter. A research study was also conducted to analyze data from almost 1,500 adults wherein more than 400 patients received proton therapy and the rest were given traditional radiation treatment.
The researchers claim that patients who receive proton therapy experienced fewer serious side effects compared to those who received traditional radiation treatment. 45 patients in the proton therapy group and 301 patients in the traditional radiation group experienced severe side effects.
One of the reasons why many patients prefer proton therapy is because it has lesser side effects compared to traditional radiation treatments. After the session, the patients may feel tired, but they should be able to go back to their normal day and resume activities. In other cases, the patients may also experience headaches, less energy, loss of appetite, digestive issues, hair loss, and sore skin around the treated area.
Health Insurance Coverage
In the United States, proton therapy is covered by many insurance providers like Medicare. Some centers also accept insurance plans and Medicaid. It is best for patients to ask their providers first to ensure that proton therapy is covered.
There are plenty of proton therapy locations or centers in the US. People can find one in the state of Florida, Michigan, California, Ohio, Georgia, Massachusetts, Maryland, Virginia, District of Columbia, Illinois, New Jersey, and Oklahoma. There are also treatment centers in Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee, and in some other states.