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What to Expect

The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center provides patients with the most advanced form of radiation treatment available in a comfortable, caring environment that is easy to find and easy to access.

When patients come to the center, our cancer specialists understand the complexities of their diseases and the treatment necessary to achieve the best possible results. And we also understand that patients are concerned and anxious because they are dealing with a disease and about to undergo treatment that they have little first-hand experience with. Our experienced team is here to help.

Cost & Coverage

Proton therapy is covered in the United States by Medicare and many insurance providers of all sizes. MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center accepts several major insurance plans as well as Medicare and Medicaid. Our patient access specialists can work with your insurance carrier to define your benefits, as well as those patients who decide to self-pay.

Making an Appointment

Couple in Proton Therapy Center lobbyMaking an appointment for consultation at the Proton Therapy Center is easy. Patients can self-refer by: 

A member of our patient access team will be in touch with you to help determine if you are a candidate for proton therapy treatment and to help you through the process of scheduling an appointment. 

Many patients are seen within a week to 10 days of their initial contact with the center. Please note that exact appointment wait times will be worked out based on the patient's availability and the center's treatment schedule.

Initial Consultation

Dr. James Cox with patientBefore your first proton therapy treatment, you will have a consultation with the radiation doctor who will manage the proton therapy treatments and a radiation oncology nurse. During this visit, the doctor will examine you and explain the treatment options that he or she recommends for you.

Together, you and your doctor will decide which treatment option is best. The radiation oncology nurse will explain the treatment process, review the required consent form you must sign and answer any other questions you may have.

Pre-Treatment Simulation

Patient and staff at proton gantryBefore you begin proton therapy, you will undergo a simulation, which is a treatment planning session. The simulation team will make an immobilization device for you – a mask for your face or a cradle for your body, leg or arm, depending on the area that will receive treatment – if needed. This immobilization device will help you remain still during your daily proton therapy treatments.

A simulation therapist will mark the exact treatment area on your skin or on the immobilization device using special ink (like a freckle). The marks on your skin and the immobilization device ensure that the proton beam targets the correct area each time you receive treatment. It is important not to wash these marks off your skin.

You will be positioned in the immobilization device while you undergo imaging procedures, which may include a computerized tomography (CT) scan, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a positron emission tomography (PET) scan and X-rays. The scans will be used to create a custom treatment plan for you. The simulation procedure usually takes 45 minutes to one hour to complete.

Generally, most patients begin proton therapy treatment within a week to 10 days after the simulation procedure. In some cases, however, treatment may begin even sooner.

During Treatment

Patient in SimulatorYour radiation therapist will explain the daily routine you will follow and what usually happens during a treatment session. In the treatment room, the radiation therapist will position you in your immobilization device and use the markings from your simulation procedure to deliver your prescribed proton therapy dose accurately. 

During your treatment, the radiation therapist will remain in the control room where he or she can see and talk to you at all times by closed circuit television and two-way intercom.

The radiation oncology nurse will monitor your progress closely throughout the treatment and teach you how to manage the side effects you may have. He or she will give you written information and show a video of the steps you will follow during your treatment.

The first few days of treatment may take longer than the remaining sessions. You will usually come once a day, Monday through Friday, for up to eight weeks. The length of treatment varies depending on the type of cancer. You will see your radiation doctor once a week during the course of your treatment. This weekly visit will help your treatment team monitor your progress and help you manage any side effects you may experience. 

If needed, you may also meet with a registered dietician, social worker or other health care professionals during your treatment.

Follow-Up

Dr. Andrew Lee with patientFour to six weeks after you complete all of your proton therapy treatments, you will have your first follow-up appointment with your radiation doctor. Your doctor will examine you, check your progress, discuss any test results and answer questions you may have.

Tests may be scheduled a day or two before your follow-up appointments. Your doctor and health care team will determine what follow-up you will need going forward.


© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center