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Proton therapy

Proton therapy or proton beam therapy is a type of particle therapy which uses a beam of protons to irradiate diseased tissue, most often in the treatment of cancer. The chief advantage of proton therapy is the ability to more precisely localize the radiation dosage when compared with other types of external beam radiotherapy. In essence, proton therapy is a site-specific treatment that primarily radiates the tumor site, leaving surrounding healthy tissue and organs intact. Minimizing damage to healthy tissue and surrounding organs, proton treatment is highly successful and results in fewer side effects.

Proton therapy for the treatment of cancer

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors that are localized and have not spread to distant areas of the body. The precise targeting in proton therapy is possible because the subatomic particles release the bulk of their destructive energy beneath the skin, at the tumor's depth, rather than near the surface, as X-rays do. Doctors set that depth by controlling the speed at which a proton is blasted at the skin.

Proton therapy can be used in conjunction with other forms of cancer treatments such as traditional radiation, chemotherapy and/or as a follow-up to surgery.

Proton therapy can take anywhere from one day to several weeks depending on the tumor site. The length of treatment time will also decrease over time as heavier doses begin to increase. With most cancer cases, success is determined if the cancer does not re-occur within five years after treatment.

Cancers treated by proton therapy

Proton therapy is meant to treat cancers or other diseases that are limited to one place in the patient's body. It is not used to cure cancers that are systemic in nature, such as leukemia. It is also not used for cancers that have spread widely to other places in the body. It may be used, however, to relieve symptoms arising from localized metastases.

Following is a partial list of diseases currently treated with proton therapy:

  • Brain and Spinal Cord
    • Arteriovenous Malformations (AVMs)
    • Isolated Brain Metastases
    • Pituitary Adenomas
  • Base of Skull
    • Acoustic Neuromas
    • Chordomas and Chondrosarcomas
    • Meningiomas
  • Eye
    • Uveal Melanomas
  • Head and Neck
    • Nasopharynx
    • Oropharynx Cancer (locally advanced)
  • Chest and Abdomen
    • Chordomas and Chondrosarcomas
    • Early Lung Cancer
  • Pelvis
    • Prostate Cancer
  • Tumors in Children (pediatric)
    • Brain Tumors
    • Orbital and Ocular Tumors
    • Sarcomas of the Base of Skull and Spine

Proton therapy treatment centers

At the end of 2008, there were a total of 26 proton therapy centers in Canada, China, England, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and USA; and over 60000 patients had been treated. One hindrance to universal use of the proton in cancer treatment is the size and cost of the cyclotron or synchrotron equipment necessary. Several industrial teams are working on development of comparatively small cyclotron or synchrotron systems to deliver the proton therapy to patients.

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