About proton beam therapy

  • A gentler method for treating cancer

    Radiation therapy has been used to treat tumours since the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, radium was used – a method with major side-effects for both the patient and hospital staff. Naturally, methods have developed a great deal in the intervening years. The most common method currently in use is photon beam therapy.

    Today, radiation treatment accounts for 30% of all cancer cures, and half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy at some point during their treatment.

    Treatment in use since 1957
    Proton beam therapy is nothing new to Uppsala, although it was only conducted on a small scale until the opening of the Skandion Clinic in 2015. The first treatment was performed in 1957 at the Gustaf Werner Institute, later to become the Svedberg Laboratory. This was a global event – with only Berkley in the United States preceding the institute.

    Protons are positively charged subatomic particles to which large amounts of energy are imparted in a cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator. The cyclotron accelerates protons to speeds up to 60% of the speed of light. When a patient is to receive therapy, these protons are conducted to the treatment room and is directed towards the patient’s tumour with great precision. The aim of the therapy is to damage the DNA (genetic material) of tumour cells to prevent further division.

    Reduced risk of side effects
    The intention of all radiation therapy is to damage the tumour while sparing adjacent healthy tissue. Classic radiation therapy using photons unavoidably subjects tissue other than the cancerous tumour to high levels of radiation. Large amounts of radiation penetrate all the way through the body with concomitant risk to healthy organs. In some cases, this prevents the use of radiation therapy while in others, it is impossible to administer sufficiently high doses of radiation without risking injury to other organs or tissue.

    A proton beam can be controlled more precisely than traditional radiation, thus reducing the risk of side effects. The energy in a proton beam can be varied so that almost all of the radiation dose is delivered at a specific, predetermined depth. This allows proton beam therapy to be almost entirely concentrated on the tumour itself, meaning that the radiation dose can be reduced with potential less risk of side-effects.

    Suitable for young patients
    For this reason, proton beam therapy is especially suited to the treatment of certain types of disease, and for certain patients; for example, tumours located close to vital organs such as the brain and lungs or in the abdominal cavity. One such large patient group is children and young people, as it is always desirable to provide them with the gentlest treatment possible.