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Proton Beam Therapy Overview

At Rutherford Cancer Centres, we use the latest IBA ProteusONE machines to deliver proton beam therapy to patients. The state-of-the-art ProteusONE machine utilises pencil beam scanning, an advanced technique that allows doses of radiation to be delivered precisely to the size and shape of the treatment area, in combination with the robotic patient-positioning couch and the most up-to-date imaging capabilities, including cone beam CT. This ensures that the delivery of proton beam therapy is accurate and prevents the risk of radiation reaching surrounding healthy tissue.

When patients come to Rutherford Cancer Centres for proton therapy, each treatment plan is tailored uniquely to the patient and delivered by our highly skilled team of therapy radiographers, physicists and dosimetrists. Proton beam therapy is currently available at the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales and will be available from the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East from Summer/Autumn 2019 and the Rutherford Cancer Centre Thames Valley from Autumn/Winter 2019.

Cancers we treat with proton beam therapy

Before treatment begins, an oncologist will discuss and explain the full aim of the proton beam therapy treatment plan and if further services will be required alongside it. Proton beam therapy can be used as a sole method for treating certain cancers or used in combination with other cancer services, such as chemotherapy, or to ensure that any remaining cancerous cells are destroyed following tumour removal surgery.

Proton beam therapy treatments areas:

  • Bowel*
  • Brain
  • Breast
  • Head & Neck
  • Lymphoma*
  • Prostate
  • Sarcoma*

*The suitability of treating certain body areas with proton beam therapy is dependant on the location and staging of the cancer.

How does proton beam therapy work?

Proton beam therapy uses beams of protons to shrink tumours. Protons are small particles of an atom and a “particle accelerator” (cyclotron) is used to speed up the protons to produce the beam. The latest form of proton beam therapy is called intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT) with pencil beam scanning, an advanced technique that allows each dose to be precisely targeted.

The proton beam’s ability to be targeted to a specific depth during treatment allows for harder to reach tumours to be treated, as well as tumours that are in sensitive locations such as near the spine, in the brain or affecting vital organs such as lungs and liver. Although it utilises high-energy protons to damage and kill cancer cells, the proton beam can be specifically targeted to a particular treatment site and the beam made to ‘stop’ before affecting surrounding healthy cells.

When patients come to Rutherford Cancer Centres to receive proton beam therapy, treatments will be delivered using the latest in proton therapy technology. Our movable gantry can revolve a full 220 degrees, with a robotic couch that is able to rotate 180 degrees around patients, ensuring patients remain as comfortable as possible during treatment sessions and be treated from any angle required. Proton beam therapy is not always a standalone treatment and can be used alongside other cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, hormone therapy and targeted drug therapy or post-surgery.

What is the aim of proton beam therapy?

Proton beam therapy can be used as a sole method for treating certain cancers or used in combination with other cancer services, such as chemotherapy, or to ensure that any remaining cancerous cells are destroyed following tumour removal surgery. Before treatment begins, the patient’s oncologist will discuss and explain the full aim of the proton beam therapy treatment plan and if further services will be required alongside it.

PBT - Video

Proton beams can be stopped where needed this allows us to treat harder to reach tumours at a higher dose and treat tumours that are close to sensitive healthy tissues.

Watch the video
  • Ability to target tumour cells is similar to that of photons in radiotherapy
  • The dose of radiation to healthy tissues is reduced, decreasing chance of secondary malignancies in the future
  • Potential to decrease side effects that may otherwise be faced with conventional radiotherapy
  • It can treat hard to reach tumours that may be close to critical organs
  • Greater flexibility when planning treatment dosage, with potential for reducing the number of treatment sessions
  • Can be combined with other treatments and therapies

Before treatment begins, an oncologist will discuss and explain the full aim of the proton beam therapy treatment plan and if further services will be required alongside it.

The full treatment length for proton beam therapy is fully dependent on the type of cancer to be treated, the treatment site and the size and shape of the tumour to be treated. While one patient may only require a single session of proton beam therapy treatment, a different patient may need to undergo daily visits over multiple weeks to complete the full course of treatment.

Before treatment begins, our consultants will be able to explain the intended length of treatment and further details of the personalised treatment regime.

The individual appointments for proton beam therapy, referred to as ‘fractions’ by patients, can take between 15 to 45 minutes, however, only a few minutes of this time is dedicated to the delivery of the proton beam therapy. The majority of the time is spent ensuring patients are made comfortable on the robotic positioning couch, with cushions and braces where necessary, to prevent any movement while the treatment takes place.

Patients who have undergone proton beam therapy have reported no pain or discomfort during treatment and our radiotherapy team will ensure that patients  are in the correct position before the treatment takes place. There may be some sensitivity in the area being treated but this normally occurs after the appointment has concluded.

People aren't radioactive or give off radiation following proton beam therapy treatment.

Long term side effects can be  lower when undergoing proton beam therapy treatment and short term side effects have been known to be reduced also, depending on the area of the body being treated. During and following treatment, patients may experience sensitivity and reddening of the skin in the area that is being treated, in addition to slight hair loss in the treatment area. 

During treatment sessions, any side effects will be closely monitored by our therapy radiographer team, who will also provide any advice or guidance to patients during appointments.

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