Even with modern medicine and surgical technique, there are some major health afflictions that are still highly dangerous, and sometimes their treatments are just as risky. Cancer, for example, is still one of the biggest challenges of the medical community, and today’s methods of radiation treatment for cancer involve full-body radiation that may sometimes do as much harm as good, similar to chemotherapy. But cancer shouldn’t just be ignored, either. What can be done as a prostate cancer cure, for example, or breast cancer in women? Breast cancer care or taking care of other cancer types can be done with a new form of radiation treatment for cancer: proton beam radiation. This is a relatively new but effective method of treating cancer of many different kinds, and today’s patients at a cancer treatment center may be offered this new form of radiation treatment for cancer. One may wonder: how does proton radiation treatment for cancer work? What sets it apart from the older, full-body form of radiation treatment for cancer?
Proton Beam Basics
Proton beam radiation is made possible with a medical machine called a synchrotron, which simply excites protons and then issues these protons in a tightly controlled beam. In turn, this beam, once exposed to the cancer patient’s flesh, will destroy cancer cells on contact while having no effect on surrounding tissue and only a negligible effect on tissues and organs behind the targeted area. Thus, proton radiation therapy avoids many of the harmful downsides of full-body chemotherapy or radiation, and patients and doctors may find this very attractive. The side effects are minimal. Patients may expect only skin issues such as redness, swelling, dryness, or some blistering, but probably nothing more severe than that. This is a non-invasive cancer treatment method that only destroys the intended target. It is a surgical strike, both figuratively and literally.
How has the medical community proven that proton radiation therapy is safe and effective? Statistics have been gathered to find out what effects this radiation method does or doesn’t have, and the numbers are often promising. For example, women who undergo proton radiation therapy for breast cancer may expect only half the radiation dosage to strike their lungs (and none to the heart) as they would experience with regular radiation therapy. What is more, proton radiation therapy can be used on prostate cancer, and many men have had their prostate cancer destroyed with this method. Rarely does this method harm the patient’s health, and around 94% of men who have had this done on them later reported no sexual health issues. And often, the cancer is gone for good. To illustrate this, 99%, 94%, and 74% of men who had low-risk, moderate-risk, and high-risk prostate cancer, respectively, reported no recurrence of that cancer five years later during a follow-up.
A diagnosed cancer patient may be offered the option of proton radiation therapy at a cancer treatment center, and should the patient agree, he or she will undergo several sessions of treatment. A session first begins by having the patient’s X-rays taken, so that doctors can determine the size, shape, and location of the tumor or cancerous growth. This updates them on the cancer’s size and location, giving them a sort of map for treatment. Now, the patient is escorted to the treatment room, where they will either take a seat or lay on a table, based on the cancer’s location, and the synchrotron is in this room as well. The doctors will adjourn to a nearby room, where they can control the synchrotron and also talk with the patient over an intercom if need be. This can help soothe the patient’s nerves and get any needed feedback from them.
The actual procedure in fact only takes one or two minutes, and it involves the doctors steering the synchrotron’s beam to destroy only the cancer cells and avoid damaging any nearby tissues. The patient is advised to stay still for this so that the beam’s aim is not thrown off. The entire session may take 30-45 minutes or so, and once several sessions are complete, the cancerous growth should be completely destroyed, although of course a follow-up will be conducted when the time is right.