What Is Proton Therapy and How Is It Used?

In essence, proton therapy is a superior form of radiation therapy. It is a form of treatment used in cancer therapy without as many negative side effects as other forms of treatment. This form of therapy is unique in form and function and can be used to treat a variety of different types of cancer.

It is a cancer treatment that utilizes proton beams to eliminate tumors and other unhealthy cancer cells. Protons are simply atoms that carry a positive charge. When concentrated into a controlled proton beam, this form of therapy is capable of treating both benign and malignant tumors in much the same way as x-rays or photons do.

The protons deliver a focused dose or radiation in a much more controlled way than standard radiation. Once the protons enter the body, the atoms discharge most of their energy within the region of the tumor, delivering only a minimal dose outside. With this method of delivery, protons are much more capable of treating smaller tumor sizes and have a much more concentrated area of delivery.

Because the delivery of proton therapy is much smaller and more confined to the tumor itself, physicians can typically administer a greater dose of radiation to the patient while still minimizing the negative effects of treatment. These benefits are particularly important when treating child patients as the protons help reduce damage to growing and developing tissues.

With its unique delivery method and established success, proton therapy is being used to treat tumors in several areas with encouraging results. The therapy is currently being used to treat tumors in the:

• Lungs
• Prostate
• Brain
• Liver
• Esophagus
• Rectum
• Skull base
• Brain
• Head and neck
• Eye

More research is being carried out and methodology established to be able to explore the use of proton therapy in other parts of the body as well.

Who Is Involved in the Procedure?

Because of the delicate nature of the procedure, proton therapy requires a skilled treatment team to administer the procedure. Individuals involved in the procedure include a radiation oncologist, radiation physicist, dosimetrist, radiation therapist, and nurse.

The oncologist is the individual who is specially trained to evaluate the patient and determine the appropriate strategy for therapy as well as the area for treatment and the radiation dose. The oncologist, physicist, dosimetrist, and therapist work together to determine the protocol for administering the prescribed dose in the most beneficial way. Imaging exams are crucial in successfully administering therapy, so the radiologist also plays a significant part in the treatment process.

The physicist and dosimetrist are primarily responsible for completing treatment calculations to ensure that the treatment is accurately delivered while the therapist is the individual who is specifically trained to deliver the daily treatments. Additionally, the nurse and other team members tend to any additional health concerns and side effects of the treatment throughout the procedure and recovery process.

What Equipment Is Used During the Proton Procedure?

To effectively administer the treatment, the therapist uses a specialized machine, which delivers proton beams to the effected tumor region. The devices the therapists typically used are known as cyclotrons or synchrotrons, which activate the positively charged atoms and transmit them at speeds of nearly 179 million meters per second. Additionally, the therapist manipulates special magnets that are attached to the machines to guide the high-energy protons to the specific area of treatment. When using some older machines therapists utilize additional pieces of equipment to alter the range and shape of the beam; however, with newer devices, they are able to effectively direct the energy and magnetic fields with simple fine-turning.

Who Operates the Equipment?

Radiation therapists are specially trained to facilitate proton therapy. These individuals are responsible for getting the patient ready for treatment, delivering therapy, and monitoring the patient during and after the procedure. Additionally specialized operators are responsible for maintaining, upgrading, and repairing the equipment used in treatment.

Proton therapy is a unique form of cancer radiation that is more concentrated and has fewer side effects of treatment. It is used to treat several different forms of cancer, requires a team of skilled individuals, relies on unique equipment, and is delivered by highly-trained professionals.