Proton therapy, also called proton beam therapy, is a type of radiation therapy. It uses protons rather than x-rays to treat cancer.
A proton is a positively charged particle. At high energy, protons can destroy cancer cells. Doctors may use proton therapy alone. They may also combine it with x-ray radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.
Like x-ray radiation, proton therapy is a type of external-beam radiation therapy. It painlessly delivers radiation through the skin from a machine outside the body.
A machine called a synchrotron or cyclotron speeds up protons. The high speed of the protons creates high energy. This energy makes the protons travel to the desired depth in the body. The protons then give the targeted radiation dose in the tumor.
With proton therapy, there is less radiation dose outside of the tumor. In regular radiation therapy, x-rays continue to give radiation doses as they leave the person's body. This means that radiation damages nearby healthy tissues, possibly causing side effects.
People usually receive proton therapy in an outpatient setting. This means they do not need to have treatment in the hospital. The number of treatment sessions depends on the type and stage of the cancer.
Sometimes, doctors deliver proton therapy in 1 to 5 proton beam treatments. They generally use larger daily radiation doses for a fewer number of treatments. This is typically called stereotactic body radiotherapy. If a person receives a single, large dose of radiation, it is often called radiosurgery.
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