Proton therapy, which your doctor may also refer to as proton radiation or proton beam therapy, is an advanced form of external beam radiation treatment. Similar to other forms of external beam radiation, it is noninvasive and painless; unlike other radiation options, however, it allows clinicians to provide higher and more focused doses of radiation to the prostate without damaging surrounding healthy tissue or organs. With proton therapy, doctors can precisely target the tumor while minimizing damage to the surrounding, healthy tissue. Unlike X-ray radiation (such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy [IMRT]), protons deposit much of their radiation directly in the tumor and then stop.
How Does It Work?
When doses of protons (positively charged parts of an atom) enter a tumor, they deposit most of their energy at a specific target, destroying cancerous cells and preserving surrounding healthy tissue. This differs from conventional radiation therapy because a less significant dose of protons enter the body, therefore reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and critical organs. The result is a smaller chance for side effects and secondary cancers. With proton therapy for prostate cancer, treatments typically take only 15 to 20 minutes each day and are delivered five days a week for approximately eight weeks.
There is little to no recovery time after treatment, and the risk of immediate post-treatment impotency is minimized, especially in those with good sexual function prior to treatment. Most patients tolerate the treatments extremely well and are able to continue to work, exercise and remain sexually active during their treatment course and immediately after treatment is complete.
Benefits Of Proton Therapy
Since proton therapy precisely targets even the most difficult to treat and reach tumors, it allows for higher doses of radiation to be delivered to the prostate with fewer side effects. Unlike treatment with conventional X-ray therapy (which may require 8 beam angles), treatment with proton therapy can be achieved using just two beams. Some of the benefits of proton therapy include:
- Precise, accurate delivery of even high radiation doses to kill cancerous cells in the prostate
- Minimal impact to surrounding, healthy tissues and vital organs, such as the bladder and rectum
- Less invasive – treatment is painless and requires no downtime
- Provided in a comfortable, outpatient setting with free parking
In many cases, the side effects associated with proton therapy are fewer than those that come from traditional radiation. This is due to proton therapy’s ability to effectively deliver radiation doses to the treatment site while doing considerably less damage to the healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. Your physician will review in detail with you any potential side effects prior to the start of your proton therapy treatments.