Proton therapy vs photon therapy


From The National Association for Proton Therapy.

There is a significant difference between standard (x-ray) radiation treatment and proton therapy. If given in sufficient doses, x-ray radiation techniques will control many cancers. But, because of the physician's inability to adequately conform the irradiation pattern to the cancer, healthy tissues may receive a similar dose and can be damaged. Consequently, a less- than-desired dose is frequently used to reduce damage to healthy tissues and avoid unwanted side effects. The power of protons is that higher doses of radiation can be used to control and manage cancer while significantly reducing damage to healthy tissue and vital organs. Essentially, protons are a superior form of radiation therapy. Fundamentally, all tissues are made up of molecules with atoms as their building blocks. In the center of every atom is the nucleus. Orbiting the nucleus of the atom are negatively charged electrons.”

From the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center.

While proton therapy kills cancer cells through a process similar to that used in conventional x-ray radiation — by damaging their DNA. However, because of the unique physical properties of protons, doctors can are able to deliver radiation to a specific depth in the body. With proton therapy, all energy has been released by the time it reaches the tumor site, so there is no dose beyond that point. This can help to reduce side effects. Proton therapy typically involves the same number of treatments and the same session times as conventional radiation therapy.”

Maryland Proton Treatment Center affiliated with University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center

Maryland Proton Treatment Center affiliated with University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center


The difference between the two

Before Denise Durgin made her decision on proton versus photon treatment, she had to see the difference between the two.

Michael Eblan MD, of INOVA Health Systems in Fairfax Virginia, treats patients at the Maryland Proton Radiation Center in Baltimore Maryland, so she scheduled a consultation at the INOVA Alexandria Virginia campus 25 days after her mastectomy. She had so many questions during this meeting that they met for two hours. Doctor Eblan showed her similar images of the heart as shown above.

These type of images showed the potential radiation impact to her heart. She made the decision after seeing these images. At the Maryland Proton Radiation Treatment Center website they talk about the accuracy of proton therapy in that it:

  • “Provides a higher dose of radiation while protecting healthy tissues surrounding the tumor”

  • “Treats some cancers that traditional radiation cannot”

  • “Combines with other treatments like chemotherapy”

  • “Given to patients who have already had conventional radiation therapy”

  • “Treats pediatric patients while minimizing long-term side effects”

  • “Just like with X-ray radiation, proton therapy is also provided as an outpatient procedure”

“Bottom line: Maximum dose, minimum damage “

If you have questions about this treatment, ask your surgeon or the radiation oncologist. Or, consider calling a proton treatment center in your area.

Images from

Images from

UF Health proton therapy institute

UF Health proton therapy institute