Breakthrough: Treating cancer with new proton beam therapy

A revolutionary new therapy for cancer using proton beams was shown to have fewer complications than traditional methods.

Cancer researchers have made a huge breakthrough. According to a report from the BBC, a recent study published in the Lancet Oncology has proven that proton beam therapy, a controversial treatment for cancer, can actually be safer than traditionally radiotherapy.

Researchers examined the effects of proton beam therapy on 59 patients between the ages of three and 21 over the course of six years. Led by Dr. Torunn Yock from the Massachusetts General Hospital, the study focused on the effects of proton beam therapy on malignant brain tumors in children, a condition known as medulloblastoma.

“The major finding is that proton therapy is as effective as photon therapy, or conventional X-ray radiotherapy, in curing these patients and what is also very exciting is that it is maintaining these high rates of cure but doing so with less late toxicity, which has dramatic quality of life improvements,” said Dr. Yock.

Proton beam therapy uses charged particles in lieu of X-rays to treat cancer. High-energy protons can be aimed straight at a tumor, providing a more precise radioactive treatment and minimizing the damage to surrounding tissues and organs. The therapy has been used to treat spinal cord tumors, sarcomas in the brain and spine, prostate cancer, lung cancer, liver cancer, and a number of cancers affecting children.

The study revealed that the precision of proton beam therapy can dramatically reduce the side effects of conventional radiotherapy. According to Professor Gillies McKenna, the head of the department of oncology at Oxford University, “There were no side effects seen in the heart and lungs and gastrointestinal tract, which are almost always seen with X-rays, and no secondary cancers were seen at a time when we would have expected to see them in X-ray treated patients.”

In the U.K., there is currently only one use for the treatment – treating eye cancers. Patients with other types of cancer can apply for NHS funding to receive the therapy abroad. The first facility offering the treatment specifically is expected to open in Wales at the end of 2016.

The study, published in the Lancet Oncology, can be found here.

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