Proton therapy is a type of external beam radiation that can be used to treat prostate cancer tumors with a stream of protons (small positively charged particles) instead of X-rays.
This type of radiation kills prostate cancer cells by altering the genetic material that controls how cells grow and divide with little damage to nearby tissues. Ultimately, this means that cancer cells are targeted, and healthy tissue is impacted less in comparison to other treatment options available. At present, despite the 10- to 20-fold increase in the cost of the equipment, proton therapy has not been shown to be more effective than IMRT (external radiation therapy using x-rays) in tumor control. Because of the expense of the equipment, there are typically fewer facilities available to deliver proton therapy to a prostate cancer patient.
Similar to x-ray radiation, proton therapy works to deliver radiation through the skin from a machine outside of the body. The machine, called a synchrotron or cyclotron, speeds up the protons causing a higher speed of energy that allows the protons to travel to a specific depth in the body. The protons then transmit the appropriate amount of radiation to the cancer cells.
Proton therapy is given on an outpatient basis; this means that you’ll be given the treatment in an office setting rather than required to stay at a hospital. Your doctor will work to identify the location for the radiation as well as the number of treatments you’ll likely expect. The size and location of your cancer will determine the details of your treatment plan.
Much care is given in making sure that your body is in the correct position to receive the external beam radiation. You may be asked to position your body a certain way by sitting on a special chair rather than lying on a table. During radiation treatment planning, your doctor will rely on CT and MRI scans to ensure that the body is in the right position for treatment and that the radiation hits the tumor rather than healthy tissue.
During the treatment, your medical team will be positioned outside of the room, but they can still communicate with you via video and monitors. Generally, the treatments last for 15-30 minutes but may vary based on specific factors such as the part of the body being treated and the number of total treatments you should expect.
As with any treatment, there are some side effects to consider. While the treatment itself is considered virtually painless, there are some other side effects to keep in mind. Following the treatment, you may feel slightly tired, as is very common with many cancer treatments. You may also have some redness at the treatment site, and your skin may feel itchy, dry, or irritated. Your doctor may provide some suggestions for how to care for your skin following the treatment. You may have other side effects if your treatment plan includes other therapies such as chemotherapy. Talk to your oncologist about which side effects you should expect for your situation.
If you have been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s critical to personally research prostate cancer treatment options to make an informed decision that is best for you and your family. Your doctor can provide expertise and guidance, but you should also ask questions about the different types of treatment that could work for you.
Keep in mind, with few exceptions, your first treatment method gives you the best chance for success, so this is a significant decision to make with your medical team. It is not unusual for your doctor to suggest a combination of treatments such as radiation therapy and surgery or internal and external radiation therapy.
Learn more about your prostate cancer treatment options including ProstRcision.