What is proton beam therapy?
Proton beam therapy is the treatment of cancerous cells using highly accelerated proton particles that are targeted precisely to the tumour area. It is frequently used to treat cancers that affect vital areas of the body such as major organs, the brain, spine and neck as well as in paediatric cancers.
Proton therapy is considered an effective cancer treatment as less radiation enters the surrounding healthy tissue, reducing the severity of the potential short and long-term side-effects. While proton beam therapy can be used as a sole treatment, it is also used alongside other cancer treatment methods including chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy and surgery.
Benefits of proton beam therapy
This type of treatment, while not suitable for all types or locations of tumours, offers several benefits over older forms of radiotherapy treatment with regard to side effects and the potential length of treatment. The type of cancer treatment plan best suited to a person is unique to their circumstances and health and should always be discussed with their personal oncologist support team.
Proton therapy treatment benefits include:
- Tumour cells are targeted and irradiated effectively, highly accurate scanning and proton delivery ’stops’ the beam from passing beyond the tumour depth, reducing radiation to surrounding healthy cells.
- Reduced irradiation of surrounding cells prevents cell damage and future malignancies.
- Accurate doses with less chance of healthy cell damage allows for treatment plans to offer increased proton beam strength.
- A stronger dose used for treatment can reduce the number of sessions for patients and the time needed for individual sessions.
- The potential for reduced side effects common with regular radiation therapies such as nausea and fatigue.
- Effective at reaching tumours that are in sensitive areas of the body that are at risk of radiation damage.
- Treatment can be more effective in areas such as the bowels, brain, breast, lymphoma, head and neck, sarcoma and prostate.
What happens during proton beam therapy treatment?
When the cancer treatment plan is being laid out for the patient, the hospital or clinic will arrange for scans to take place, either CT or MRI to accurate locate the cancerous cells within the body.
Once the site of the tumour is confirmed, a semi-permanent or small permanent mark is applied to the area of the skin where the treatment will be focused and the person undergoing treatment may be fitted for a supportive brace. The brace is to ensure minimal movement during treatment and will be fitted solely for the individual to wear during radiotherapy sessions.
Individual sessions won’t take a huge amount of time, often lasting between 30 to 45 minutes, although the actual session time is dependent on the severity and location of tumour. Those undergoing treatment will be taken to the treatment centre, often a bunker style room due to the radiation used in treatment delivery, and will be asked to lie on the bed. The brace and any additional support are put in place and nothing begins until the person is at their most comfortable without feeling the need to move around.
Advanced treatment centres using the most up-to-date equipment will utilise a movable gantry with a sweeping degree of movement that rotates around the person undergoing treatment to deliver treatment in the most effective area and ensure the person can better remain still. In some cases, the treatment bed will need to be adjusted to a different position to allow best access for proton beam delivery, but the support team will always put the comfort of the person first.
Proton beam therapy like more common forms of radiotherapy treatment does not present any risk of making the person undergoing treatment radioactive and after individual treatment sessions have elapsed, it is perfectly safe for them to be around friends, family and children. Due to the nature of proton therapy, it is not uncommon for those undergoing treatment to return to work after their treatment sessions, although individual circumstances may vary.