Proton Beam Therapy: Cost, Risks, Recovery


Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of radiation therapy that destroys cancer cells by preventing them from dividing and growing. Proton beam therapy is similar to radiation therapy, but it uses high energy protons, which are positively charged atomic particle, instead of photons or X-rays to damage tumors. Proton therapy allows a higher radiation dosage to be delivered to the tumor site, while minimizing damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

Radiation therapy directs intense energy at cancer cells to destroy the genetic material that controls cell growth. However, radiation will affect both healthy and cancerous cells. Proton beam therapy offers an alternative. Protons deposit much of their radiation directly in the tumor and then stop.

Proton therapy is an important treatment option for children because of their higher vulnerability to the effects of radiation. Proton therapy may minimize serious short-term toxicity and long-term side effects, such as developmental and growth delays, solid organ damage and new malignancies.


Proton beam therapy works by accelerating protons to a high energy state through a particle accelerator. This high energy state allows the protons to travel through tissue directly to a tumor, which may contribute to a very localized bombardment of protons on the tumor.

Protons are positively charged and therefore attract negative charges. When a proton is launched near a molecule such as DNA, negatively charged regions of the molecule will be attracted to the proton. It will interfere with that molecule’s normal orientation and function. As a result, cancer cells will be killed by the process.


Proton therapy is usually used for early stage tumors (stage I, II, and III). It may be used alone, or combined with other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or traditional radiation therapy. Proton therapy is beneficial in the treatment of many kinds of tumors, including brain, breast, esophageal, eye, gastrointestinal, gynecological, head and neck, liver, lung, lymphoma, prostate, soft tissue, spine, and many pediatric cancers. Some non-cancerous tumors, such as benign brain tumors may also be treated with proton therapy. It is also a better option for childhood cancers, including:

  • Head and neck cancers
  • Liver cancer
  • Gallbladder cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Gastric cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Sarcomas
  • Eye cancer


Like most cancer treatments, proton beam therapy can cause side effects and complications. Many of the side effects are similar to those of conventional radiation therapy, but may be less severe due to the precise focus of damage. The common side effects include:

  • Fatigue

Like conventional radiation therapy, fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of proton beam therapy.

  • Skin redness or rashes

Redness is common with proton beam therapy. Less commonly, blistering and skin breakdown may occur.

  • Hair loss

Hair loss may occur in the region where the proton beam therapy is given. Unlike the hair loss associated with chemotherapy, hair loss related to proton beam therapy may be permanent.

  • Inflammation

Inflammation may occur in the region where proton therapy is given. For example, when proton therapy is given to the chest, lung inflammation, also called radiation pneumonitis, may occur. It is important to treat radiation pneumonitis to reduce the risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis. Inflammation may occur in other regions as well, such as the esophagus.

Keywords: proton beam therapy.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.