Building Awareness of Proton Therapy

When a man gets a diagnosis of prostate cancer from his doctor, what treatment options does he have? One of the most recent alternative cancer treatments has been proton therapy (which was introduced around since the 1950s). Proton therapy uses a pin-point radiation beam with two thousand pounds of power and it travels almost at the speed of light. It can be molded and aimed precisely at a tumor in the prostate gland without evasive surgery and with very minimal damage to surrounding tissues. It effectively uses the radiation to destroy the tumor. Since this alternative cancer treatment is mostly used to treat localized cancers, it often can help when traditional treatments are ineffective or are too dangerous to surrounding organs.

Traditional therapies (such as x-ray radiation) have to be used in small doses, since it has a broad spectrum and can affect healthy tissue. With proton therapy, the radiation is compacted to a pin-point beam that can apply higher doses right at its target: the tumor. When the radiation maximizes at its entry point of the tumor (known as the Bragg’s Peak), the proton beam does not go beyond the tumor; thus, leaving healthy tissue virtually untouched The beam can actually be molded to the exact shape of the tumor to lessen damage to surrounding tissue even more.

One of the deciding factors if this alternative cancer treatment is right for a man with prostate cancer is if the cancer is localized within the prostate (i.e. no metastases). Another consideration is patient girth. Usually, a morbidly obese patient would not be a good candidate for proton therapy because of the depth limitations of the radiation beam. Only a qualified oncologist could tell a patient for sure about his option for proton therapy.

To date, side effects of proton therapy as an alternative cancer treatment are noticeably less than traditional radiation, since the tumor is being precisely targeted resulting in fewer side effects. One’s oncologist will be able to make a referral to a treatment center or hospital which specializes in proton therapy, but a referral isn’t always needed.

It is worth noting that this alternative cancer treatment is significantly more expensive than photon (traditional) radiation treatment. However, a common myth is that this treatment is not covered by insurance. That is not the case. Most insurance carriers do offer coverage for proton therapy, including Medicare.



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