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Proton Therapy

Nurse operating cyclotron

When dealing with a cancer diagnosis, it’s reassuring to know that safe, effective treatment is within your reach. At Penn Medicine, our cancer specialists are world-renowned in proton therapy, a highly accurate form of radiation therapy.

Proton Therapy: Why Choose Penn Medicine?

You have access to some of the world’s foremost experts in proton therapy at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center in the Abramson Cancer Center. Qualities that set us apart include:

  • Depth of experience: Every day, our radiation oncology teams treat more than 100 patients with proton therapy. That’s more than 6,000 patients since the Roberts Proton Therapy Center opened in 2010. You benefit from the broad, deep experience your care team has built by treating a high volume of patients.
  • Exceptional expertise: Each of our proton therapy team members specializes in treating cancer in a specific area of the body with proton therapy.
  • Comprehensive care for children: In partnership with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), our pediatric radiation oncology team treats children who have a wide range of cancers. Your child receives treatment from world-class experts in childhood cancers with specialty training in pediatric care. Learn more about our pediatric proton therapy program.
  • Nationally recognized excellence: Our center is one of few proton therapy centers in the world that is fully integrated with a National Cancer Institute (NCI)–designated comprehensive cancer center. This designation means that our proton therapy team meets the highest standards for the most advanced cancer research. We give you access to the latest therapies, including clinical trials for treatments not available at most other cancer centers.
  • Ongoing research to advance treatment: Our radiation specialists continue to conduct research that looks at proton treatment for virtually every cancer type. Our goal is to find more ways to use proton therapy — and make it more effective — for more cancers.

What Is Proton Therapy?

Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy. Radiation therapy is a noninvasive, painless cancer treatment that uses high-energy radiation to damage the DNA in cancer cells. This genetic damage prevents cancer cells from multiplying and destroys them. Learn more about all types of radiation therapy.

Proton therapy uses protons, which are positively charged atoms, to destroy cancer cells. Doctors can tightly control proton beams and target them precisely to the tissue being treated. This distinction makes proton therapy a good option for treating cancers that are in or close to critical areas such as the brain or heart.

How Does Proton Therapy Work?

Your radiation team starts by measuring the shape, location and depth of the targeted tumor site. We use this information to design highly accurate proton beams that release most of their energy precisely at the tumor.

Proton beams emit low energy when entering the body, and they deposit very little radiation when exiting the body. That means less radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue, reducing your risk of side effects.

Benefits of Proton Treatment

Proton therapy is more precise than other types of radiation therapy. Our radiation oncologists can design radiation beams that exactly fit the shape and depth of the tumor. The proton beams deliver most of their energy only in the targeted tissue.

With greater precision and accuracy, proton therapy can offer several benefits, such as:

  • Less damage to healthy tissue: Proton treatment can reduce the radiation dose to healthy surrounding tissues by 50 to 70 percent. Reduced radiation means less tissue damage to critical areas near tumors and lower risk of later complications due to radiation.
  • Possibility for higher radiation dose: The lower risk of damage to surrounding tissue means our radiation team can increase the radiation dose to the tumor. A higher dose can be more effective in destroying cancer cells.
  • Ability to treat cancer in critical areas: Proton therapy’s precision makes it an excellent option for tumors near critical organs and tissues sensitive to radiation.
  • Fewer, milder side effects: In recent studies, patients reported fewer side effects such as pain, difficulty swallowing, difficulty breathing, nausea and diarrhea. Reducing side effects helps you feel better so you can complete your course of treatment without delays.
  • Potentially higher cure rates: Because we can administer a higher radiation dose with proton therapy, we can often provide long-term cancer control.
  • Ability to treat recurrent cancer: People who have conventional radiation for cancer treatment may not be able to have radiation again if the cancer comes back (recurrent cancer). That’s because healthy tissue near tumors can be irreversibly damaged by too much radiation. Proton therapy can be an option because of the reduced radiation exposure to nearby tissue.

Cancers We Treat With Proton Therapy

At the Roberts Proton Therapy Center, our radiation oncologists are continuously researching new ways to use proton therapy to treat cancer and noncancerous (benign) tumors. At present, the types of cancers best treated with proton therapy include:

Proton Therapy: What to Expect

Your care team at the Abramson Cancer Center provides you with compassionate care throughout the evaluation and treatment process. Find out more about what to expect during proton therapy, and see our FAQs about proton therapy for answers to your questions.

Contact Us

To find out more about proton therapy and other cancer treatment at Penn Medicine, please call 800-789-7366 (PENN). You can also request an appointment online.