Proton therapy for cancer is a painless way of treating tumors by using proton beam radiation. This type of cancer treatment is in high demand because it is non-invasive and virtually free of side effects. Only a few select medical centers in the world offer this type of treatment, but more are being built every year. 

Historically proton beam therapy has been used mostly to treat prostate cancer and eye tumors, but now other cancers are being treated by this innovative technology.

What is proton beam therapy?

Protons are particles derived from hydrogen atoms when exposed to an electric field. A machine called a cyclotron then energizes and accelerates the protons.  The activated protons can then be guided by magnets to a delivery device that directs a beam of protons to the cancerous tumor. The high energy of the protons can kill cancer cells. Malignant cells, since they divide rapidly, are more sensitive to radiation than normal cells of the body.

Proton particles are relatively heavy so when they are delivered there is little scattering of the cells. This allows for the proton beam to be aimed very precisely. This precision limits the radiation exposure nearly exclusively to diseased tissue while keeping healthy tissue free from exposure.

How is proton therapy equipment used?

First the tumor must be localized by computer tomography scanning. Next the cancer is outlined and marked on a specialized computer screen by the radiation oncologist. Then the proton beam characteristics are calculated based on the tumor size and cell type. Finally the beam is delivered painlessly to the patient by a nozzle shaped proton beam delivery device.

How often is proton beam treatment administered?

The treatments are usually applied five days a week for a period of several weeks up to three months in some cases.

Are proton therapy side effects serious?

Physician and patient experience has shown proton therapy for cancer to be essentially free of side effects. Ongoing research has thus far confirmed this. One of the great advantages of this treatment is that patients can continue to lead active lifestyles while undergoing the therapy sessions.

Is proton therapy for prostate cancer effective?

Current research has shown favorable outcomes for treating prostate cancer with proton beam therapy. Surgical intervention for prostate cancer commonly leads to problems with urinary incontinence. This complication is avoided with proton therapy because the proton beam is non-invasive and only targets diseased tissue. This precision keeps healthy surrounding tissue unaffected by the proton beam. The use of proton therapy for cancer has been established now for many years.

Where are proton therapy centers located?

Some of the most prestigious medical centers in the world offer the therapy including the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia and Massachusetts General Hospital. Loma Linda University in California and the University of Florida also have treatment centers. Over the past five years many new centers have been built in the states of Texas, New Jersey and Michigan. 

What other cancers are treated by proton therapy?

Cancers of the head, neck, breast, lung, eye, abdomen, pancreas, pituitary and others have been treated by proton beam therapy.


Proton therapy for cancer is an exciting medical technology that provides a painless and non-invasive treatment for cancerous tumors.