Getting a diagnosis of breast cancer is scary. In 2018, it has been estimated that about 266,120 new cases will be found, according to the American Cancer Society. The good news for people who have been told they have this or other kinds of cancer, there are new treatments that are being developed all of the time. There may not be a breast cancer cure but therapies such as proton radiation therapy can be successful.
In 2014, the Loma Linda University in California conducted clinical trials of proton therapy for cancer. They looked at 100 breast cancer patients who were in the process of undergoing proton cancer treatment. The university looked at the health and well being of the patients for five years after the treatment ended. They discovered that a full 97% of these patients remained cancer free and that proton therapy for breast cancer left their heart, lungs, and breast suffered less damage than those who underwent traditional radiation therapy.
To understand the benefits of proton therapy for breast cancer, it is important to understand how proton therapy and traditional radiation therapy works. Both kind of radiation attack a tumor cell’s ability to divide and then grow. Both use similar technology to accomplish this.
The difference between traditional radiation treatment for cancer and proton therapy for cancer is in the way that the radiation is delivered and how much is used. In x-ray or traditional radiation therapy, the body part that is impacted by cancer is flooded with radiation. This has the effect of damaging the cancer cells but it also takes a hard toll on healthy tissues and organs. That is what leads to secondary tumors and many of the side effects people experience when they are undergoing radiation therapy.
By contrast, proton therapy for cancer is a bit different. The protons that are used can be targeted to only hit the tumor cells, leaving healthy tissue and organs alone. Because the protons can be targeted to only hit the cancer cells themselves, it is possible to hit them with a larger dose of the radiation. None of the other tissue is exposed to radiation. This may not be a breast cancer cure but it does have the ability to do a lot more damage to cancer cells. Both forms of therapy are, during the treatment, painless.
Some benefits of proton therapy for cancer:
- The targeting of the therapy makes it possible to treat only the cancer cells with the radiation making this close to a breast cancer cure.
- The precision used prevents overall toxicity from the therapy. When radiation is used as a general therapy, it is easy for too much to build up. That problem is eliminated with proton therapy.
- Both the short term and long term side effects are minimized with proton therapy. Most of the problems that people experience with traditional radiation therapy come from the impact it has on the healthy tissue and organs around the tumor. These are left alone, which reduces the side effects. This makes the quality of life experienced by cancer patients much better.
- There are fewer incidents of secondary tumors. Again, by leaving healthy organs and tissues alone, the chances of developing secondary tumors due to the proton treatment.
- This is an effective treatment for cancers that come back. When cancer patients have one treatment for cancer, they can have a hard time working through an additional radiation therapy. When proton therapy is used, this is not the case and subsequent tumors can be treated with proton therapy.
- Proton therapy offers treatment options for a wide range of cancers. Proton therapy for breast cancer works well but it is also good if someone has tumors of the eye or brain, as these are often more challenging to treat.
- Proton therapy is often better for treating children with cancer. One of the concerns doctors have, when they are treating children with cancer, is the impact that treatment can have on other parts of their body. When proton therapies are used, the chances of other problems that are caused by the treatments are reduced, making it a safer option for kids with cancer.
While a breast cancer cure may not be here yet, proton therapy can be effective.