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Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer remains the number one cancer killer among men and women in North America. The five-year survival rate is just 15 percent among those diagnosed with the disease. 

Physicians at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center are world leaders in the research and treatment of lung cancer and pioneers in developing proton therapy for the benefit of lung cancer patients. MD Anderson was among the first proton therapy centers to treat lung cancer with protons and chemotherapy. Our physicians have extensive experience in caring for patients with lung cancer and continue to make strides in treating the disease.

Approximately 15 percent to 20 percent of lung cancer patients have tumors that can be treated with surgery combined with other therapies such as radiation. Another 30 percent to 50 percent of lung cancer patients have locally advanced tumors that require a combined treatment regimen that includes radiation therapy. But because the lungs are located close to several critical normal structures in the body, it is challenging to deliver an adequate dose of radiation to a cancerous tumor while sparing these nearby normal tissues. That’s where proton therapy has the advantage for many lung cancer patients.

Watch this video of Dr. James Cox discussing lung cancer research, and treating lung cancer with proton therapy.

Targeted, Powerful Treatment

Using proton technology’s advanced image guidance and ability to precisely target tumors in the lungs, our specialists can deliver powerful radiation dosages with optimal accuracy, sparing critical nearby structures, such as the esophagus, heart and spinal cord. This conformality means the physician can treat the tumor with a higher dose of radiation, which allows normal tissue to function better and may result in better local control of the disease, higher survival rates and improved quality of life.

Our experts continue to develop ways to help patients fighting lung cancer, such as treating patients with “gated breathing” or breath-holding techniques. This allows for even more precise delivery of radiation right to the tumor.

Pencil Beam Scanning

In addition to gated breathing techniques, the MD Anderson Proton Therapy is able to offer lung cancer patients an even more advanced form of treatment called pencil beam scanning proton therapy.

Pencil beam scanning proton therapy delivers a single, narrow proton beam (which may be less than a millimeter in diameter) that is magnetically swept across the tumor, depositing radiation like a painter's brush, without the need to construct beam-shaping devices. The advantage lies in the beam's capacity to approach the tumor from multiple directions, creating a "U" shape around critical structures and minimizing the dose to them during treatment

This technology continues to build on the patient benefits already offered with proton therapy – more targeted, higher tumor dose, shorter treatment times, reduced side effects and increased treatment options.

Another benefit of pencil beam scanning proton therapy is its use in patients with recurrent lung cancer, who have already received full doses of radiation. In this case, pencil beam limits or eliminates radiation to these sensitive areas.

With proton therapy for lung cancer, treatments typically take about 15 to 30 minutes each day and are delivered five days a week for approximately four to seven weeks. The course of treatment and length of time per treatment each day varies based on each patient’s individual case. Most patients tolerate the treatments extremely well and are able to continue to work and exercise during their treatment course and immediately after their treatment is complete.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center