what is proton therapy for lung cancer

What Is Proton Therapy For Lung Cancer?

To this day, lung cancer is still at the top of the list when it comes to cancer killers in North America. It affects both men and women, and the five-year survival rate is just at 24 percent. 

Fortunately, physicians and experts are working hard on promising new treatments. 

Proton Therapy is one of the most well-known treatments for lung cancer. It also works for thoracic cancer patients such as thymoma, mesothelioma and esophageal cancer. 

Detecting Lung Cancer

Usually, chest X-rays and computerized chest tomography or CT scans are used to detect lung cancer. Positron emission tomography or PET scans can also be used. After the scans, a patient usually has to undergo a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.

Treating Lung Cancer

Now, once a person is diagnosed with lung cancer, doctors use a variety of local techniques for those who are in the earliest stage of treatment. For instance, if the lung cancer is operable, the patient usually goes through local therapy. 

However, for those who are in the advanced stages, combination therapy is recommended. This includes surgery and radiation with proton therapy for lung cancer. In cases where the cancer is not operable, then a radiation therapy, including proton therapy may be a good option. 

What Is Proton Therapy For Lung Cancer?

So what is proton therapy for lung cancer exactly? Well, it is a type of advanced radiation treatment. It can deliver treatment to a very precise area of the lung.

The treatment takes advantage of the exceptional and unique components of high energy particle beams. These beams accumulate ionizing radiation as they move through the body. What’s great about proton therapy is that the depth of its beams are very controllable. Gamma or X-ray beams, on the other hand, are not. 

When all the charged particles come to a halt, all of its energy is then delivered within the tumor. And little to no exit dose affects the surrounding tissues. 

Medical experts have to be careful with this type of treatment because the delivery of the radiation needs to be precise. This is because the lungs are very close to other vital organs including the spinal cord, the esophagus and the heart. 

And this is why proton therapy is important. It is a very precise treatment that uses image guidance and pencil beam scanning technology. It helps avoid radiation to the heart, the healthy lung (if any), and the esophagus. 

Because of this, it reduces the risk of treatment-related side effects. These include pain, heart complications, scarring in the lungs, lung inflammation and difficulty swallowing. 

Who Can Get Proton Therapy?

However, not every lung cancer patient is eligible to get proton therapy. There are many factors at play. Doctors need to consider these factors before deciding if the patient can undergo proton therapy.

Factors can include:

  • If the patient has already received radiation treatment in the past
  • Is the tumor near critical organs including the spine, the esophagus and the heart?
  • If the patient is suffering from poor pulmonary function because of COPD
  • Does the patient have any risk of lung complications?
  • Is the patient currently receiving concurrent chemotherapy?

Proton therapy is applicable to patients with stage I, II, III non-small cell lung cancer or NSCLC, thoracic sarcoma, small cell lung cancer (SCLC), thymic carcinomas, malignant mesothelioma, thymomas, recurrent cancer that is contained within the chest. 

It is also applicable to patients with inoperable non-small cell lung cancer as long as the cancer has not spread outside of the chest.

More Information

This article is part of our series on Lung Cancer Treatments, Signs, Causes and Prevention.

Please check out the next topic in this series: 20 lung cancer facts

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