Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy that is currently in use at the Roberts Proton Therapy Center at Penn Medicine.
Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor. The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.
Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. These particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death.
Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.
Protons are different from conventional radiation because the beam can deposit the bulk of the radiation in the target and significantly reduce normal tissue exposure to excess radiation. There is significant potential to reduce side effects and improve overall outcomes. For some tumors, higher doses of radiation may be delivered with protons and there is also the potential to improve combination treatment with other therapies, such as chemotherapy, which can be difficult with conventional radiation therapy.
As with all cancer therapies, protons should not be used for everything. They are a tool that may be of benefit for particular tumors and particular situations.
Learn more about Proton Therapy at OncoLink.