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What is Particle Therapy?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 29 January 2019
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2019
    Conjecture Corporation
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Particle therapy is a form of cancer treatment where an external beam bombards a cancer with particles to damage the tumor's DNA and prevent it from growing. Protons, neutrons, and ions all have applications in particle therapy and some medical facilities offer it as an option to patients. People who want to pursue this treatment can ask a care provider for a referral if he does not offer it or is not familiar with the protocols for a specific cancer.

In particle therapy, patients lie on a table while a technician fires an external beam to precisely target the desired point. The technician works with medical imaging studies to pinpoint the location of the tumor and inputs this information into the controller for the beam to make sure it hits the right spot. The type, intensity, and duration of the radiation are all adjustable to allow people to deliver precisely aimed particle therapy with the goal of creating minimal damage to neighboring tissues.

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One advantage to this technique is lower dosing. The precision targeting allows for the delivery of a very small load, reducing the risk of side effects for the patient. This can significantly improve patient outcomes, as the tissue around the cancer stays healthy. The precision targeting is also a benefit, as doctors can use particle therapy to treat otherwise inaccessible and elusive cancers. In the brain, for example, it can be difficult to access tumors surgically, and particle therapy offers hope for nonsurgical patients.

The disruption of cellular DNA will break up existing cancer cells, as well as preventing them from replicating. Particle therapy is available for use in combination with other treatment options to comprehensively bombard a cancer with treatments. This makes it more difficult for remaining cells to survive and start replicating after the therapy is over, limiting the risks of recurrence.

Risks and benefits of particle therapy vary, depending on the cancer and the procedure. Patients interested in this option will need to talk to a radiation oncologist who specializes in using radiation in a therapeutic setting. Their medical teams can provide a comprehensive evaluation patients can use to explore treatment options and decide on the best choice for their needs. People should be careful to discuss aftercare and recovery times so they know what to expect before starting treatment. This information is also useful for requesting time off work and determining how much assistance may be necessary after radiation, chemotherapy, surgery, and other cancer treatments.

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