What You Should Know about Proton Therapy for Oncology Patients

Radiation therapy has been a hallmark of cancer treatment for decades.  But there’s a new sheriff in town, bucking the status quo.

Enter proton therapy.  

Even though proton therapy is still emerging in the US, it’s critical that PTs understand what it is, how proton therapy works, & implications on patients’ functional mobility.  So I brought in the expert, Dr. Andrew Lee of Texas Center for Proton Therapy.  

Proton therapy is a form of external beam radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy uses energy to damage cancer cells.  Most radiation therapy will use photons, whereas proton therapy uses protons to damage cancer cells.  These photons are accelerated to really high speeds (as in ⅔ the speed of light) & beamed very precisely.  

For a powerful visual, check out this pitch we referenced in the podcast:

Proton therapy is used in the treatment of many cancers.

Proton therapy can be used to treat basically any cancer typically treated with conventional x-ray radiation therapy.  

Some diagnoses include:

  • Prostate cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Gynecological cancers
  • Head & neck cancers
  • Lymphomas
  • Sarcomas
  • & many more

Dr. Lee also notes that childhood cancers, especially brain tumors, are increasingly being treated with proton therapy since it is so precise & decreases overall side effect burden.

There are still side effects associated with proton therapy.

However, patients will typically experience less severe side effects compared to traditional radiation therapy.  There will still be some level of collateral damage to the healthy surrounding tissues, but Dr. Lee notes that the burden is greatly decreased.  

Proton therapy is still emerging in the United States.

Let me be clear: proton therapy is well-supported as a more precise approach to treating cancer with radiation therapy.  The research is very clear on the benefits.

But proton therapy requires a much larger space & investment to bring into a community, compared to conventional radiation therapy.  This is why many communities in the US do not yet have a proton therapy center.  But Dr. Lee is hopeful this will change in the coming years.

Proton therapy is yet another exciting development in cancer treatment.  It’s crucial for you to understand what it is, how it works, & how it affects our patients.  To get all the details, listen to my interview with Dr. Lee on Proton Therapy now!

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT. And remember: you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

About Dr. Andrew K. Lee, MD, MPH:

A renowned oncology leader, innovator, and researcher, Dr. Andrew Lee serves as medical director of Texas Center for Proton Therapy.

Prior to joining Texas Center for Proton Therapy in 2015, Dr. Lee served almost 14 years at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, where he pioneered many firsts in the field of proton therapy.

He launched proton therapy treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center and treated the facility’s first proton therapy patient in 2006. He served as the first and founding director of the Program for Advanced Technology and also as the medical director of the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.

Dr. Lee was the first physician to treat patients with spot-scanning proton therapy in North America, commonly known as pencil-beam scanning, which enables greater conformality in tumor treatments compared to traditional proton beam therapy.

He pioneered the use of fiducial markers with image-guidance at MD Anderson to improve tumor localization to optimize the accuracy of proton therapy.

A dedicated radiation oncology educator, Dr. Lee served as the first program director of the MD Anderson Cancer Center Proton Fellowship.

Dr. Lee has been consistently named to the U.S. News & World Report list of Best Doctors in America and was recognized at MD Anderson in 2014 as the first and only radiation oncologist to receive the prestigious University Cancer Foundation Faculty Achievement Award in Patient Care, which is awarded to the faculty member who exemplifies excellence in patient care.

He has co-authored more than 100 peer-reviewed articles, abstracts, and book chapters on his research in the areas of prostate cancer and proton therapy, and is internationally recognized as a leader in proton therapy for prostate cancer.

Having grown up in Minnesota, Dr. Lee is an avid fisherman and enjoys playing ice hockey.

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