Proton therapy is an advanced type of radiation
therapy used to treat some cancers.
Its precise delivery of radiation to the tumor site means there is less risk of damage
to surrounding healthy tissue.
Why Is Proton Therapy Done?
Proton therapy (also called proton beam therapy) is most commonly
used to shrink solid tumors that have not spread to other parts of the body. It's
an effective treatment for many childhood cancers, including:
Proton therapy is sometimes used along with other cancer treatments, such as standard
surgery, and immunotherapy.
How Does Proton Therapy Work?
Proton therapy uses protons (positively charged particles) instead of X-rays. A
special machine speeds up the protons. These high-energy protons can get rid of cancer
cells, which makes tumors shrink. Protons are easier to get to a specific location
than the X-rays used in standard radiation therapy.
How Is Proton Therapy Different From Radiation Therapy?
The X-ray beams used in standard radiation therapy go beyond the
area, sending radiation to healthy areas. This may damage healthy tissue
or organs near the tumor.
Proton energy sends higher doses of radiation to the exact tumor site. This helps
doctors control and manage cancer while greatly reducing damage to healthy tissue
and vital organs.
What Should We Expect From Proton Therapy?
Proton therapy treatment usually takes about 6–8 weeks, with daily weekday visits
that last about 30–45 minutes. Most of the time is spent getting the child into the
right position for the treatment.
Proton therapy treatment is painless, and doesn't require a hospital stay. Children
under 6 years old might need to get general
anesthesia to keep them completely still during the treatment.
Are There Any Risks From Proton Therapy?
Because proton therapy targets cancer cells so precisely, it's an excellent treatment
option for children with some types of cancer. There's less damage to healthy, developing
cells, so there are fewer side
effects. This also minimizes late
effects — these are long-term side effects, such as learning disabilities, hearing
loss, and other problems.
When side effects during therapy do happen, they are usually very mild and can
hair loss at the treatment site
What Else Should I Know?
Proton therapy is not available at all cancer treatment centers because it uses
very expensive specialized equipment. If doctors recommend proton therapy for your
child, be sure to talk with your insurance provider to see what is covered.