Proton Gun for the Cancer, NOT the person- A Closer Look

Proton Gun

Proton Therapy- A Closer Look

Imagine a 6 feet tall and 10 feet wide cancer killing machine that weighs approximately 195 tons!! Now imagine a controlled beam of proton travelling in the vacuum at 100,000 miles per second that can target a patient’s tumour with sub-millimetre precision while causing very little harm to nearby healthy tissues. In the simplest terms, that’s proton therapy!!

Going down memory lane

Doctors have treated & controlled cancer with radiation for more than 100 years- this branch of medicine is commonly known as Radiation Oncology. The foundation of radiation oncology is based on the interaction of energy and matter. The science of radiation physics, originally developed to accelerate particles for physics experiments, has translated into clinical treatment to generate X-rays for zapping tumors.  With the invention of particle accelerators for ion beams, linacs (linear) and circular particle accelerators way back in the early 19th century, radiotherapy has come a long way since. Interestingly, even before radiotherapy became popular, a young particle physicist at Harvard University named Robert Wilson laid out an alternative, the use of protons instead of X-rays. In 1946, Wilson published a paper called “Radiological Use of Fast Protons” in which he noted that protons deliver more radiation to the tumor while sparing healthy tissue. The first experimental proton treatments occurred in 1954 at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

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Proton Therapy- Myth Vs Facts

Common Myths about Proton Therapy…. #Busted!

Myth Vs Fact-Proton Therapy


Myth # 1. Proton therapy is experimental and investigational. It is a new, unproven science.

The following facts will prove otherwise!

  • In 1946, Robert Wilson described the ability of protons to release their energy more accurately and intensely and suggested its use in clinical radiation.
  • Proton therapy has been around for almost 60 years! The first treatments using protons or helium atoms were performed at the University of California at Berkeley in the U.S. in 1955, at the University of Uppsala in Sweden in 1957, at Massachusetts General Hospital in the U.S. in 1961, at the Physics Research Institute at Dubna in Russia in 1964 and at the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow, Russia in 1969.
  • To date, there are 41 proton therapy centers operational worldwide, and about 25 research centers with an activity related to proton therapy. According to The Particle Therapy Cooperative Group (PTCOG), more than 100,000 patients have already benefited from this type of treatment worldwide. At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center alone, thousands of cancer patients have survived cancer and are back to enjoying their lives.
  • Proton therapy was approved in 1988, more than 26 years ago, by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of certain cancers.
  • Dr. James Cox, a prominent researcher from MD Anderson commented on the subject of no RCT comparing proton therapy to X-rays in an article in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.In the article he pointed out the fact that there is considerable documented evidence showing protons can provide superior therapy to that possible with x-rays in almost all circumstances. This is because the dose distributions that can be achieved with protons are superior to those possible with x-rays. There is generally between two to three times less energy deposited by protons to the healthy & normal tissues outside the target as compared with the energy that x-rays deposit.

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