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Proton Therapy for Breast Cancer

William Ralph is a mental health and wellness expert with several years of experience in mental health research and awareness programs.


Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses high-energy protons to deliver radiation to specific targets inside the body. It is used by doctors to treat cancer.

Proton therapy is an especially useful therapy, used to kill any remaining cancer cells left from a lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast cancer. By so doing, it ensures less risk of damaging healthy tissue and precision when compared to radiation therapy. The advantage is that proton therapy may result in fewer and less severe side effects.

When do doctors use proton therapy?

Due to its precision, proton therapy is recommended by doctors when trying to save healthy tissue near and around the tumor site.

It has especially specific benefits and importance in treating brain stem, eye, and spinal cord cancers where saving healthy tissues in these sites is of the utmost importance.

In treating early-stage breast cancer, proton therapy is a safe alternative to standard radiation therapy, and because it presents less risk to the heart it is also advantageous in treating breast cancer on the left side. It is often recommended after a lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast cancer to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Proton beam therapy can also be used to treat the following types of cancers:

  • Spinal cord cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Bladder cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Neck and head cancers
  • Lung cancer
  • Eye and nose cancers
  • Breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Anal, and rectal cancers
  • Liver cancer
  • Gastric, pancreatic, and hepatobiliary cancers
  • Kidney cancer

Proton Therapy for Breast Cancer

When a breast cancer diagnosis is made, radiation therapy is usually part of the treatment.

While radiation therapy is advantageous to cancer treatment because it uses high-intensity beams to aggressively combat cancerous cells, the downside is that in the process it also can affect nearby healthy tissue.

Proton therapy is a type of external beam radiation therapy that lowers the risk of damaging surrounding tissue and for breast cancer, it helps prevent radiation damage to your lungs and heart too.

Proton therapy for breast cancer

Traditional radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation beams which pass through the tumor and continue on, sometimes harming nearby organs and healthy tissues. In breast cancer treatment, the heart and/or lung tissues are at high risk of damage with this treatment.

Proton therapy allows doctors to choose a more precise targeting and stopping point, thereby concentrating the energy beams directly on the tumor without letting it pass through to other surrounding or underlying organs and tissues.

Proton therapy, therefore, has a more precise targeting, thereby reducing the risk or occurrence of tissue or organ damage.

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Traditional radiation vs. proton therapy

There should be no confusion or mistake, both proton radiation and traditional therapy kill cancerous cells. The difference between both methods is in the precision of their beam.

Where Traditional radiation therapy kills the cancerous cells and beams through the tumor, it, however, allows the beam to extend beyond the tumor, which could result in damaging healthy tissue and organs.

Proton therapy however stops where the tumor stops thereby presenting less potential for organ or healthy tissue damage.

The Ideal candidate for Proton Therapy in Breast Cancer Treatment

Research suggests that breast cancer patients who are expected to receive higher doses of traditional radiation doses to the heart are most likely to benefit from proton therapy instead.

The following factors are likely to increase radiation to the heart:

  • After a mastectomy
  • tumors in the inner quadrant
  • tumors on the left side
  • having to receive radiation therapy to regional lymph nodes

Also, for patients who have a high risk of heart disease, your doctor might recommend proton therapy instead of traditional radiation.

What are the side effects of proton therapy?

Same as traditional radiation, the side effects of proton therapy may include fatigue, skin tenderness, and redness that resembles a sunburn. A 2020 study however found that people who had proton therapy experienced “fewer” serious side effects than those who had traditional radiation therapy. This is not to say that the proton group did not experience serious side effects, in fact, 12 percent in the proton group had a side effect severe enough to need hospitalization as against 28 percent in the traditional radiation group.

Although longer clinical trials are needed to fully investigate and establish long-term adverse effects.

Is proton therapy covered by health insurance?

Although not all insurance providers cover the cost of proton therapy, medicare and some other insurance providers cover all or a portion of the cost. However, you should confirm with your insurance provider before starting therapy.

Where can you get proton therapy?

Many major hospitals and cancer treatment centers now offer proton therapy, where it’s not readily available, your doctor or oncology team can inform you about nearby locations.

In Conclusion

While you might be worried about what the experience would seem like, it is similar to traditional radiation therapy and would constitute a part of your treatment plan.

Ask if proton therapy is a good option for you if your doctor recommends radiation treatment for breast cancer.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 William Ralph

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