Proton beam therapy is the latest advancement in the treatment of various types of cancer. It is a precise form of radiotherapy, which uses a beam of protons to target the cancer cells and destroy them. It scores high on precision and effectiveness, when compared to other conventional cancer treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, and X-ray radiotherapy. It destroys the cancerous cells without harming the healthy cells. Thus, it considerably reduces the side effects that accompany conventional cancer treatments.
The use of this therapy for treating cancer was first introduced in 1954. Since there were very few cancer treatment centers that time, the availability of this treatment was limited. The first proton treatment center was introduced at the Clatterbridge Center for Oncology in the UK, followed by the Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, in 1990.
In this therapy, ionized particles or protons are targeted at the tumor. These protons are generated and accelerated from a machine called cyclotron. The proton beam is at its lowest concentration while penetrating the body. It reaches its highest concentration once it gets into the targeted cells. Protons have a relatively large mass and therefore, they do not scatter much and focus only on the aimed tumor. The radiation damages the DNA of the cancerous cells without harming the nearby cells, whereas in radiotherapy, the nearby non-cancerous cells are also destroyed. Damaging the DNA leads to the destruction of the cell’s ability to multiply or divide, thereby affecting the growth of the cancerous cells. Cells can develop enzymes to repair the injured DNA; however, the cancer cells lose the ability to create those enzymes. This leads to permanent damage of those cells and their subsequent death. Since the nearby cells are not harmed during this therapy, the side effects are considerably reduced when compared to the conventional treatments. The duration for which this treatment is administered would vary, depending on the size of the tumor, ranging from a day to few weeks. If the tumor does not reappear within five years of the treatment, then the success of the treatment is established.
The benefits of this therapy over the conventional forms of cancer treatment are:
- It ensures that the non-cancerous cells surrounding the tumor are not destroyed. Therefore the side effects are minimized considerably.
- The dose of radiation delivered by a proton beam is uniform compared to that of the X-rays.
- The amount of radiation can be increased, without having to worry about its effects on the surrounding cells.
- It is cheaper than surgery.
- It has even proved effective in the cure of prostate cancer, cancer of the colon, liver, etc.
Since cancer treatment centers providing this therapy are few, efforts are being made to make it available to as many cancer patients as possible. The therapy aims at providing cancer patients with effective tumor control, less complications and side effects, and an improved quality of life after treatment.