MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center has an extensive team of cancer experts – including radiation oncologists, nurses, radiation therapists, medical dosimetrists, physicists and other cancer professionals – all dedicated to helping patients fight cancer. Because the center is part of MD Anderson, patients get the benefit of cancer research in addition to our team’s extensive expertise in treating patients with proton therapy. This depth and breadth of experience in both treating cancer and treating cancer with proton therapy has allowed us to further develop ways to help patients who have cancer in different areas of the body.
How long do treatments typically last?
For most disease sites, proton therapy 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 treatment is complete.
Brain and skull base cancers
Tumors in the brain and skull base can be cancerous or non-cancerous. Most tumors are treated with surgery alone or a combination of surgery – to remove as much of the tumor as possible – and radiation to eliminate the remaining cancerous tissues. Radiation alone may be used when surgery is not possible. Chemotherapy also is used in some cases.
Radiation therapy for brain tumors and tumors at the skull base are complex and must be treated delicately, yet aggressively for effectiveness. With proton therapy technology, the cancer specialists at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center can deliver the high doses of radiation needed to treat the tumor, while protecting nearby normal brain structures to prevent new neurological deficits, hormonal deficiencies or intellectual impairment.
Proton therapy is a unique type of radiation treatment that can precisely target and deliver high radiation doses to a tumor to kill cancerous cells. Proton therapy may be especially beneficial for breast cancer patients by minimizing damage to nearby tissue and critical organs such as the heart and lungs.
Proton therapy is able to treat patients with early stage breast cancer who undergo breast conserving surgery with minimal or no tissue rearrangement with proton partial breast irradiation on trial. We also treat patients who require radiation after mastectomy on a trial comparing proton post mastectomy radiation therapy to traditional photon post mastectomy radiation therapy.
The incidence of esophageal cancer is increasing in the United States and has an overall 5-year survival rate of 10% to 30%. Most patients diagnosed with this disease have locally advanced tumors, requiring a combined treatment regimen that includes radiation therapy.
Proton therapy treatment for GI cancers causes less harm to healthy tissues and vital organs such as the liver, small bowel, kidneys, and stomach. It also causes less side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue than when patients are treated with traditional radiation.
For some patients with gynecologic cancers, proton therapy may help reduce the radiation dose to surrounding healthy tissues like the kidneys and pelvic bone marrow. If you need radiation, MD Anderson’s gynecologic radiation oncologists will discuss the advantages of different types of radiation therapy and recommend the treatment that is right for you.
Head and neck cancers
Many different tumor types – both cancerous and non-cancerous – originate from or extend into the skull base and neck. Even benign tumors can cause symptoms or threaten the health and well-being of a patient.
Doctors at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center work closely with the skilled multidisciplinary team at MD Anderson Head and Neck Center to provide comprehensive care for patients who have benign or malignant head and neck tumors. Treatment options include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, or any combination of the three.
Proton therapy spares more healthy tissue when delivering the high radiation dosage needed to treat and eventually reverse the progress of the cancers in the head and neck. The decreased dosage to critical nearby normal structures helps reduce risks, such as blindness, endocrine disorders and damage to the salivary glands, and because of this, patients often report fewer side effects during and after treatment.
Also, head and neck cancers are best treated when the radiation dose can be increased – without increasing risks of damage to nearby structures – and overall treatment time can be decreased. Thus, the pencil beam technology pioneered by the cancer experts at MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center – and available at only a few other centers worldwide – is an important tool for fighting cancer in these patients.
Watch this video of Steven J. Frank, M.D., medical director, director of Advanced Technologies and associate professor, Department of Radiation Oncology discuss the advantages of proton therapy for head and neck cancers and the process for becoming a head and neck patient.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and performs many important functions to keep a person healthy. There are two types of liver cancer - primary liver cancer (most commonly hepatocellular carcinoma), which originates in the liver and metastatic liver cancer, which results from the spread (metastasis) of cancer from other areas of the body.
Liver cancer can be cured only when found in an early stage and before the disease has spread. Treatment regimens vary depending on the size of the tumor and whether the patient also has cirrhosis of the liver. Currently, the best chance for potentially curing liver cancer is through surgery to remove the tumor or transplant a new liver.
Liver patients also can benefit from the use of the proton therapy offered at MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center. Our doctors use proton technology to shrink or kill liver cancer cells, allowing the delivery of larger dosages of the radiation without destroying normal liver tissue. Radiation therapy cannot cure liver cancer, but it can shrink the tumor or relieve pain.
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.
The experts at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center are leaders in the research and treatment of lymphoma with proton therapy. We are one of the only centers in the world offering proton therapy as an option for patients with lymphoma who require radiation therapy or for those patients with a type of lymphoma that is resistant to chemotherapy.
With internationally recognized pediatric cancer specialists, the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center is a leader in treating pediatric cancers, such as brain tumors, with proton beam radiation. Our doctors are part of a multidisciplinary team that specializes in treating children with cancer – from the most common types of childhood cancer to the most rare – and that has a depth of experience in treating children with cancer using proton therapy.
The first patient treated at MD Anderson with proton therapy had prostate cancer and started treatment in 2006. Since then we have treated nearly 2,100 men who have prostate cancer with proton therapy. While surgery and radiation therapy have similar outcomes for early-stage prostate cancer, radiation therapy is the primary option for both localized and locally advanced prostate cancer. For larger or more aggressive tumors, radiation therapy may be used in combination with hormone therapy.
Sarcomas are rare, malignant tumors found almost anywhere in the body in both children and adults. Because most sarcomas are quite rare, many oncologists may have treated few patients with these tumors, if any. MD Anderson Cancer Center treats more sarcoma patients than any other cancer hospital, enabling physicians to build on their expertise in an ongoing effort to discover new therapies and diagnostic methods. This same experience in dealing with sarcomas extends to MD Anderson’s Proton Therapy Center and the development of proton therapy treatment for many types of sarcomas.
Most often, proton therapy is used in combination with other types of treatment for sarcomas. Surgery is the most common treatment for soft tissue sarcomas. Radiation as a stand-alone treatment for sarcoma is not as common but can be used for patients who are not healthy enough for surgery or to ease pain and other symptoms of disease.