Cancer treatments have made huge developments in recent years with the introduction of MR-LINAC – an MRI guided targeted radiotherapy treatment, proton beam therapy – the use of protons to accurately target cancer cells and immunotherapy – using the body’s own immune system to interrupt cancer cell growth. As these treatments improve and become more targeted, they make the treatment process much easier on the patient. With a reduction in the severity of side effects and highly targeted treatments making it easier to treat with higher doses, reducing the overall treatment length.

What Is Proton Beam Therapy?

Proton beam therapy is a relatively new treatment to the UK, available in a handful of private cancer centres and currently two public health care centres. It is a highly targeted cancer treatment that uses pencil beam scanning to accurately paint individual cancer cells, interrupting their growth and division process and eventually leading to the death of the cancer cell.

The treatment differs to conventional radiotherapy by using protons, rather than photons (x-rays) to treat cancer. This is a key difference as the energy released by protons can be targeted to a specific area and depth in the body, preventing a loss of energy to the tumour and reducing the radiation that surrounding healthy cells receive. The reduced irradiation contributes to less severe side effects than those experienced during conventional radiotherapy and also allows for higher doses to be delivered in individual treatments. Higher doses can shorten the full length of the treatment the patient requires, allowing them to return to their normal lifestyle faster.

Why Proton Beam Therapy?

Not every patient will be deemed suitable for proton beam therapy and there are a number of reasons why. When a patient is referred for treatment, their oncologist will consider;

- The staging of the cancer

- The location of the cancer

- The individual patient’s circumstances

Proton beam therapy is an advanced cancer treatment for tumours located in highly sensitive places that could face further harm from traditional treatments such as chemotherapy and conventional radiotherapy. This includes;

- Head & Neck

- Brain

- Spine & Central Nervous System

- Prostate and Pelvis

- Breasts, Chest & Lungs

As a new treatment, it also carries a much higher treatment cost than conventional radiotherapy and each patient’s diagnosis will be considered on a case by case basis to ensure they get the most efficient treatment for them.

The Benefits of Proton Beam Therapy

Often the side effects of cancer and cancer treatments can be the hardest part of the patient treatment journey and severe side effects can be debilitating. Proton beam therapy provides the benefit of reduced severity of side effects as healthy cells receive much less radiation compared to other treatments. In addition to reduced side effects, the reduced amount of radiation to healthy surrounding cells reduces the changes of developing secondary cancer which often needs to be taken into consideration when offering conventional radiotherapy.

There is another benefit to proton beam therapy outside of patient treatment, time. As proton beam therapy treatments can be delivered in stronger individual doses, the entire treatment plan is reduced in length. This offers more time back to healthcare facilities and allows them to treat an increased number of patients compared to conventional radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

The Future of Proton Beam Therapy

As proton beam therapy is still an extremely expensive treatment, it will be some time before proton beam therapy is offered as readily as conventional radiotherapy and chemotherapy. However, there are private healthcare centers looking to work closely with public health services in the hope to bring this advanced treatment to more patients in the future.

It’s an exciting time in the world as we get closer to advanced medicine and health treatments becoming more easily accessible for all.

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