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Breast cancer and its proton therapy, a type of radiotherapy

Breast cancer and its proton therapy, a type of radiotherapy

 Breast cancer and its proton therapy, a type of radiotherapy

Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy that uses high-energy protons to deliver radiation to specific targets inside the body.  It is used by doctors to treat cancer.

Proton therapy is a particularly useful treatment, used to kill any remaining cancer cells from a lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast  cancer . By doing so, it ensures that the risks of healthy tissues are and precisely when compared to radiotherapy. The advantage is that proton therapy may result in fewer and less serious side effects.   

When do doctors use proton therapy?

Because of its accurate, doctors recommend proton therapy when trying to preserve healthy tissue near and around the site of a tumor.  It is of particular interest and importance in the treatment of cancers of the brain stem, eye and spinal cord where the preservation of healthy tissue in these sites is of utmost importance.

In the treatment of early-stage breast cancer, proton therapy is a safe alternative to standard radiotherapy, and because it presents a lower risk to the heart, it is also useful in treating left-sided breast cancer.  It's often recommended after a lumpectomy or mastectomy for breast cancer to kill any remaining cancer cells.

Proton beam therapy may also be used to treat the following types of cancers:

  • Spinal cord cancer.
  • stomach cancer.
  • Bladder Cancer.
  • Prostate cancer.
  • Neck and head cancers.
  • Long Cancer.
  • Eye and nose cancers.
  • breast cancer
  • Esophageal cancer.
  • Anal and rectal cancers.
  • Liver Cancer.
  • Cancers of the stomach, pancreas and biliary liver.
  • Kidney cancer.

Proton therapy for breast cancer

When breast cancer is diagnosed, radiation therapy is usually part of the treatment.  While radiation therapy is useful for treating cancer because it uses high-intensity beams to aggressively fight cancer cells, the downside to this process is that it can also affect nearby healthy tissue.

Proton therapy is a type of external radiation therapy that reduces the risk of damage to surrounding tissues and for breast cancer, it helps radiation damage to your lungs and prevent heart as well.

Proton therapy for breast cancer

Conventional radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation that pass through the tumor and continue, sometimes injuring nearby organs and healthy tissue.  In the treatment of breast cancer, the heart and/or lung tissue is more likely to be damaged by this treatment.

Proton therapy allows clinicians to choose a more precise targeting and stopping point, thus focusing energy beams directly onto the tumor without allowing it to pass to other surrounding or underlying organs and tissues.  Therefore, proton therapy has more precise targeting, which reduces the risk or incidence of tissue or organ damage. Conventional radiotherapy versus proton therapy.

There should be no confusion or error, both proton beam therapy and conventional therapy kill cancer cells.  The difference between the two methods lies in the accuracy of their beam.  When conventional radiotherapy kills cancer cells and radiation through the tumor, it allows the beam to extend beyond the tumor, potentially killing tissues and organs. However, proton therapy stops where the tumor stops, reducing the potential for damage to healthy organs or tissues.

The ideal candidate for proton therapy in the treatment of breast cancer

Research suggests that breast cancer patients who are expected to receive higher doses of conventional radiation to the heart are more likely to benefit from proton therapy instead.

The following factors are likely to increase radiation to the heart:

  • after mastectomy.
  • Tumors in the inner quadrant.
  • Left side tumors.
  • Having to receive radiotherapy to the regional lymph nodes.

Also, for patients at high risk of heart disease, your doctor may recommend proton therapy instead of conventional radiation

What are the side effects of proton therapy?

Just like conventional radiation, side effects of proton therapy may include fatigue, skin tenderness, and redness that looks like a sunburn.  However, a 2020 study found that people who underwent proton therapy experienced "fewer" serious side effects than those who underwent conventional radiotherapy.  This doesn't mean the proton group didn't experience serious side effects, in fact, 12 percent in the proton group had side effects severe enough to need hospitalization versus 28 percent in the conventional radiation group.  Although no longer clinical trials are needed to fully investigate and prove adverse long-term effects.

Does health insurance cover proton therapy?

Although not all insurance companies cover the cost of proton therapy, Medicare and some other insurance providers cover all or part of the cost.  However, you must confirm with your insurance provider before starting treatment.

Where can you get proton therapy?

Many hospitals and major cancer treatment centers now offer proton therapy, where as it is not readily available, your doctor or oncology team can advise you of nearby locations.


Although you may be concerned about what the experience might look like, it is similar to conventional radiotherapy and will form part of your treatment plan.  Ask if proton therapy is a good option for you if your doctor recommends radiation therapy for breast cancer.