Cancer has long since been one of the toughest medical challenges for the medical community to face, from prostate cancer treatment options to brain cancer treatment, but recent strides have been made to confront this disease. Now, proton therapy shows promise to become the most precise, thorough, and least damaging form of anti cancer treatment, especially compared to X rays and conventional chemotherapy. More and more centers are being built to fight cancer, and brain cancer treatment and others can be handled at these sites.
How Proton Therapy Works
Proton treatment is applied with a particular machine called a synchrotron, according to Cancer. This device performs radiation therapy, but unlike the conventional kind, this machine will excite proton particles inside it, giving them high energy levels. These excited protons are then issued from a nozzle in a tight, controlled beam, one that can be precise down to a fraction of a millimeter. The beam is narrow in order to avoid damaging non-tumor flesh around the intended therapy site, and these protons, unlike X rays, do not easily travel through the tumor or cancerous growth and continue to travel through the human body. Treatment for breast cancer, for example, often damages the heart or other underlying tissues and organs, but this collateral damage is not an issue with proton beam therapy.
Proton beam therapy can be used on a number of cancer types, including prostate cancer, but it presents minimal risk when used that way. More specifically, researchers have found that 99%, 94%, and 74% of men treated for low, medium, and high risk prostate cancer with proton therapy, respectively, had no signs of recurring cancer after five years of follow-up. Similarly, 94% of prostate cancer patients treated this way reported no loss of sexual activity after this treatment. The actual possible side effects of proton therapy are minimal, such as a skin rash, peeling, swelling, or blistering. These side effects could happen after any cancer treatment, including brain cancer treatment. More specifically, proton therapy treats non cancerous brain tumors, although it can address cancer in other organs such as the prostate or breast.
Receiving proton therapy begins with a patient getting a CT scan or an MRI scan, so the tumor or cancerous growth’s location and size can be determined. The patient should hold still for these scans so they can be clear and accurate. Then, doctors will perform a radiation scan, where they determine where on the body the proton beam therapy will be applied, and once the patient is ready for the first session, he or she will go into a special room lay on a table or sit on a chair while devices hold the body still. The patient should be comfortable, and is encouraged to report any discomfort or anxiety during this stage since they have to hold still in this device.
The information from the radiation scan is used to help the doctors align the synchrotron’s beam on the targeted area, and X-rays or CT scans will confirm the growth’s current size and location, which may change from session to session. Once that is confirmed, the team leaves the room and works the controls, and the synchrotron fires its proton beam with great precision. The full therapy session can take up to 45 minutes, but the actual beam is only on for a few minutes. After a few sessions, if everything goes correctly, the procedure, whether brain cancer treatment or prostate cancer or lung cancer, is complete.
Proton therapy treatment can be expensive, given how it is a new and rare procedure, as is the synchrotron itself. As of the beginning of 2015, a total of 30 proton cancer treatment centers, with a total of 80 rooms, were under construction. This number may grow in the future, and overall, proton therapy, while expensive, can be highly effective at treating bodily growths and minimize collateral damage to the patient.