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History of Proton Therapy

Radiation Treatment 1950s style

The advancements of proton technology as a treatment option for cancer are exciting, but not new. The idea of using protons in medical treatment was first suggested in 1946 by physicist Robert R. Wilson, Ph.D. The first attempts to use proton radiation to treat patients began in the 1950s in nuclear physics research facilities, but applications were limited to few areas of the body. Accelerators weren’t designed for treating patients because their energies weren’t high enough to treat tumors found deep in the body.

In the late 1970s, imaging advancements coupled with the development of sophisticated computers and improved accelerator and treatment delivery technology made proton therapy more viable for routine medical applications, such as cancer treatment. Only in recent years has it become possible to develop proton beam facilities in conjunction with established medical centers. In 2006, MD Anderson opened the Proton Therapy Center and began treating patients with one of the most advanced and innovative technologies available: proton therapy.

At that time, the center was one of only three in the nation and the first of its kind integrated within a comprehensive cancer hospital , giving patients the benefit of a powerful technology with fewer side effects, all delivered by world-renowned cancer specialists. Today, the center remains one of only thirteen proton therapy centers nationally - and still the only at one of the nation's the top cancer centers.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center