What is the difference between Traditional Radiation Treatment and Proton Therapy?
Traditional Radiation Treatment uses X-rays (photons) to destroy cancerous cells. Unfortunately, photons deposit energy before and after hitting tumors which causes harmful radiation to healthy cells. Radiation to healthy cells can cause further complications during and after treatment. Although there are techniques to adjust the X-Ray beam to minimize dose to surrounding cells, there is no way to directly match the beam size to the tumor. Additionally, Traditional Radiation Therapy is limited in the number of directions it can hit the tumor.
Proton therapy uses protons instead of photons in cancer treatment. Protons themselves have a unique property called the Bragg Peak. This property allows all of the Proton’s energy to be distributed in one location, which spares healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, unlike traditional radiation therapy. This property contributes to a delivery mode called Pencil-Beam Scanning. Pencil-Beam Scanning allows for the protons to deposit their energy in the tumor layer by layer, allowing the beam to perfectly fit the tumor. Additionally, Proton Therapy utilizes a Gantry that rotates 360 degrees around the patient so that the beam can be delivered at any angle, further reducing harmful radiation to healthy tissue.
Proton Therapy and Breast Cancer Treatment
Since Proton Therapy can be stopped at a prescribed depth in tissue, it is particularly useful in Breast Cancer Treatment which requires radiation to be deposited close to the heart and lungs.
Overall, the studies being conducted are promising. One study shows up to 50% less radiation dose to the lungs and heart compared to traditional therapy for breast cancer patients. Additionally, proton therapy patients have been documented to experience less severe side effects than those who participated in traditional radiation practices. This means that proton therapy patients weren’t as impaired in their day-to-day activities. Furthermore, the precision of Pencil-Beam Scanning allows for higher doses to be distributed at one time, which may decrease the number of radiation sessions needed.
Further Studies for Breast Cancer Treatment
The current research on Proton Therapy for Breast Cancer Treatment is encouraging; however, more time and sample sizes are needed for definitive data. Most research has only occurred over the last couple of years and on a small sample size. Increasing the population included in the testing and documenting the effects of Proton Therapy after multiple decades from treatment will allow for more conclusive results.
Currently, The National Cancer Institute is funding research to see if there is a correlation between Proton Therapy and fewer side-effects to the heart.