The field of medicine has enjoyed many remarkable advances in the last few centuries, from sterilization techniques to germ theory to microscopes and vaccines. Still, some maladies remain difficult to contend with, such as cancer in its many forms. Existing cancer treatment options have been used for decades, such as full-body radiation or chemotherapy, but these methods cause a lot of harm to the entire body even when they work correctly. Fortunately, newer cancer treatment options are promising to deliver results while minimizing collateral damage, such as proton radiation therapy. Not all cancer centers feature this treatment method, but more and more do, and it might even become the norm someday. Proton radiation therapy cannot target all cancer types, but it can deal with many of the common ones, such as breast cancer, and it is also capable of prostate cancer treatment. How does this work?
About Proton Radiation Therapy
While older cancer treatment options would affect the entire body, proton radiation therapy uses more precise methods, via a machine known as a synchrotron. Such a device will excite protons inside, and then emit them from a narrow nozzle and use magnets to control that beam. Such a narrow area of radiation can strike cancer cells or tumors without touching surrounding tissues, and thus, collateral damage is very low compared to older cancer treatment options. Not only are surrounding cells unaffected, but tissue on the other side of the affected area is spared, too. Studies show that when proton radiation is used on breast cancer, the patient’s heart and lungs are exposed to minimal radiation when compared to older cancer treatment options. Meanwhile, many men who receive proton radiation therapy for prostate cancer report no damage to their sexual health, and they rarely get any remissions during follow-up exams.
Receiving Proton Radiation Therapy
Many Americans are diagnosed with cancer each year; in 2019, some 174,000 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer, and it was once predicted that 268,000 new breast cancer cases would take place in 2019. Overall, some 1,762,450 new cancer diagnoses were made in 2019, and cancer patients may consult their doctor about various cancer treatment options, including proton radiation therapy. If the patient’s cancer can be treated this way, then they may be referred to a cancer treatment center that features a synchrotron.
During each visit for proton therapy, the patient will first have their X-rays taken, so the doctors may carefully note the exact size, shape, and location of the cancer for reference. Now, the patient is taken to a therapy room that contains the synchrotron, and they will lay down or sit down, depending on where the cancer is, and the doctors will adjourn to another room that contains the synchrotron’s controls. The doctors can also speak into an intercom to give the patient directions, and if needed, reassure them and soothe their nerves.
The synchrotron is turned on, and its narrow proton beam is directed onto the patient’s tumor or cancer cells, which will destroy them on contact while not affecting surrounding tissues. The patient must hold still so this delicate process can be done correctly, and if nothing goes wrong, the process should be a fairly quick one, taking only a few moments to complete. Side effects tend to be minimal, and they might include skin redness or minor rashes where the radiation beam was used, and the skin might be itchy or irritated somewhat. Many patients may agree, though, that side effects like these are greatly preferable to those of older cancer treatment options. This entire process takes about 45 minutes to complete, and the patient may return for later sessions until the cancer cells or tumor are all destroyed without a trace.
It may be noted that costs for this sort of therapy will vary greatly. No hard figures can be cited here, but be aware that costs for this sort of procedure may vary based on the patient’s medical history, insurance provider, and how many radiation sessions they undergo.