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What Are Proton Beam Therapy Centers?

By T. Broderick
Updated May 17, 2024
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Proton beam therapy centers are medical facilities that use proton therapy to treat different forms of cancer. A variation of radiation therapy, proton beam therapy provides a more focused beam of radiation that is also more powerful. Since 1990, proton beam therapy centers have provided an alternative treatment option to cancer patients whose tumors did not respond well to traditional radiation treatment or chemotherapy. The medical community has yet to determine if proton therapy is more beneficial over other treatments.

Radiation therapy has existed since the mid-1950s. Proton beam therapy was invented in the same decade, but it was not until 1990 that the first proton beam therapy centers opened to treat large numbers of patients. Approximately 40 centers exist worldwide. Proton beam therapy is different from traditional radiation therapy in that it can focus the radiation beam onto a much smaller target and simultaneously release much larger amounts of radiation into a tumor.

Proton beam therapy centers are designed to treat certain cancers where possible damage to surrounding, healthy tissue would impair quality of life. For example, though using traditional radiation treatment may cure prostate cancer, the treatments can severely impair sexual function. Another example is ocular cancer; radiation absorbed by healthy tissue can impair vision.

These and other cancers also respond less to radiation therapy due to the relatively low levels of radiation the machine creates. The output during proton beam therapy is much higher; some physicians believe that this power increase has a beneficial effect on patient cure rates. Since less of the patient's healthy tissue is affected by radiation, the negative side affects associated with radiation therapy are lessened as a result. Most patients can maintain a high quality of life throughout proton beam therapy.

Though proton beam therapy centers provide another treatment option to cancer patients, the treatment has two disadvantages. The first is monetary. The average cost to construct a a center is $150,000,000 US Dollars (USD); this startup cost has limited the number of centers and made treatment extremely expensive. The second disadvantage of proton beam therapy is continued questions in the medical community concerning its increased effectiveness over other forms of radiation therapy. Some argue that though proton beam therapy has shown some positive results, medical science has not yet determined the best way to apply it to different cancers/tumors.

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