When considering advanced cancer treatment options, the ones that most often come to mind are those of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. While the two of these treatments can have benefits, they can end up causing a lot of side effects to occur, some of which can be both physically and emotionally tasking. Common side effects range from loss of hair to spontaneous vomiting, dehydration to severe fatigue. The issue with chemotherapy and radiation therapy is that while they aim to kill cancer cells, they often kill normal cells as well. While both treatments can be beneficial to eradicating the existence of cancer, they are not precise enough to ensure that other organs aren’t harmed in the process.
With the continuing advancement of medical technology comes the ever-increasing ability to offer patients with precise surgical and medical treatments. In the case of cancer, this comes in the form of cancer proton therapy.
Cancer proton therapy, similarly referred to as proton beam radiation, is a precise form of radiation treatment for cancer. Whereas old methods of radiation therapy could damage other cells, sometimes affecting organs surrounding targeted cancer, or by having radiation pass through cancer into other parts of the body, cancer proton therapy allows a specific point to be designated, wherein the width and intensity of the radiation beam is controlled to target a specific group of cancerous tissue. Reports have shown that 99% of men treated with proton therapy for low-risk prostate cancer have no signs of cancer recurrence five years following treatment; similarly, 94% of men with intermediate-risk prostate cancer saw the same results.
Beyond the ability to target cancerous tissue with minimal exit dose (radiation passing through the tissue to surrounding tissue), what are the other benefits of cancer proton therapy:
- Effectively reduces the risk of side effects by reducing the amount of radiation permeating surrounding tissues
- Allows for doctors to precisely target tissue, determining the exact dosage required for the tissue, thus lowering overall body toxicity
- Cancer proton therapy can be used multiple times to treat recurrent tumors
- Allows for treatment on tumors usually not treated with conventional radiation treatment, i.e. brain tumors or tumors near the spinal cord
- It can be used in cases of pediatric cancer, allowing physicians to properly target damaged tissue while not harming tissues/organs still in their phase of growth
- 94% of men with prostate cancer that were treated with cancer proton therapy showed little to no hindrance of sexual activity or impotence, something that is a common side effect of traditional radiation therapy
There were more than 30 cancer proton therapy centers under construction across the world as of 2015. Current estimates state that there were a total of about 80 rooms within all of these cancer treatment centers, allowing for at-risk patients to be properly treated without having to worry about long wait-times. The burgeoning field of medical technology is making life both easier and better for many people, and this newfound form of cancer treatment is yet another one of those.