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Proton Therapy Offers More Effective and Less Painful Cancer Treatment

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Ian Lawrence is a physicist is suffering from a cancerous tumor that was discovered on the optical nerve leading to his left eye. According to BBC News, Europeans are looking to a small number of European Centers that offer Proton Therapy, and the U.S. where more Proton Therapy centers are coming on line, for treatment. He had most of the tumor removed by surgery but a portion which remains which could not be removed. As a physicist Lawrence speaks from a position of knowledge when he states that physics explains why proton therapy provides a superior method of "cooking" cancer cells. Conventional radiotherapy does not provide the same effectiveness as proton therapy according to Ian Lawrence.

Ian Lawrence will undergo a six-week course of proton therapy treatment at a hospital near Paris. Unfortunately he will have to pay for the treatment out of his own pocket and the treatment is very expensive.

Alex Barnes from England is 5 years old and is suffering from brain cancer. He has undergone two surgical treatments in Florida and now will undergo proton therapy there to attack the remaining portions of the brain tumor.

So what is proton therapy? Proton therapy is a much more highly targeted form of conventional radiotherapy. In proton therapy a stream of charged subatomic particles called protons is fired into the body from a huge device known as a cyclotron. The protons only release their energy when they reach the site of the tumor, thus not harming surrounding tissue. A good resource on how proton therapy works can be found at the website of The Radiological Society of North America (RSNA). RSNA publishes information at "Radiology Info – The Radiology Information Resource For Patients" and has a section explaining Proton Therapy. According to RSNA the following cancers are being treated with Proton Therapy:

Conventional radiotherapy involves shooting another type of particle, X‑rays, that kill cancer cells but also kill the healthy tissue that surrounds the cancerous tumor and that X‑ray beam passes through before and after it hits the tumor. Conventional radiotherapy is dangerous, especially for children with cancer, because the side effects can damage the child’s development and for children and adults if the tumor is right next to an especially sensitive organ such as the brain, spinal cord or the eye, the collateral damage from the X‑ray beam can cause serious injury. In some cases it is impossible to provide any significant dose of killing X‑ray beam to the tumor site because of this fact and so the amount of radiation that is delivered is very low and thus not very effective in killing the tumor.

The cyclotron that produces the beam of protons is a huge machine that costs a huge some of money and therefore there are very few proton centers in the world. The device itself is highly radioactive when in operation and is usually buried in the ground outside of the laboratory where the treatment is provided. A fully equipped proton therapy center could easily cost in excess of $200,000,000.00. On the other hand the benefits in providing treatment for certain types of cancer is huge and several proton therapy centers are being currently constructed in the United States.

In the US hospitals such as the Jacksonville, Florida Proton Therapy Center is treating hundreds of cases of prostate cancer and other forms of cancer that previously have been treated with targeted radiation therapy. The National Association of Proton Therapy (NAPT) is a clearing house for Proton Therapy information for doctors and patients. According to NAPT the following U.S. Centers are in operation or development:

Operating Proton Centers:

Proton Centers under Construction:

Proton Center in Development:

One of the problems that proton therapy faces is that there are few scientific studies or clinical trials that have demonstrated the benefit of proton therapy although scientists agree that it should be very effective. A typical clinical trial would involve giving some patients the proton therapy treatment and following another group-the controlled group-who do not receive the treatment. Some cancers specialists are skeptical about proton therapy but its proponents are many and believe that the patients who have been treated and benefited are testimony to the validity of the treatment.

This situation is changing rapidly as over 150 clinical trials are underway for proton therapy and a wide variety of cancers including, brain, pancreatic, lung, prostate and liver solid tumors.

For anyone suffering from cancer which involves a solid tumor that the doctors say is unresectable (inoperable), consideration of proton therapy should be at the top of your list of treatments. Ask your doctor to send the scans of the tumor to a proton therapy center to see if the treatment is applicable. If it is applicable, proton therapy may be the difference between life and death for the patient. In addition, proton therapy offers the benefit of fewer side effects and therefore a higher quality of life which is a major factor for most cancer patients in selecting a treatment.

Do not be discouraged if your oncologist is negative about the treatment, and also do not be discouraged if the interventional radiologist at the facility where you are being treated does not recommend the treatment. Oncologists and interventional radiologists oftentimes discourage patients from seeking treatment outside of that offered at the center where the patient is being treated.

Be hopeful and inspired by the tremendous work being done by the Lance Armstrong Foundation (www.livestrong.org). Cancer patients must often get past their initial treating physicians to find the best treatments. Remember that the hospital or cancer facility where the patient initially goes for treatment has only certain treatments that they can provide and they make money by selling those treatments to patients with cancer. They want to encourage the use of their facility and the use of their treatments because hospitals are businesses and are competing for patient and insurance company dollars. You must be proactive and look to the institutions that are performing clinical trials as well as organizations such as Lance Armstrong.