What is Proton Therapy?

Proton Therapy for Cancer Treatment

An effective choice for cancer treatment with a lower risk of severe side effects.

For patients facing many types of cancer, proton therapy offers an effective alternative to traditional radiation.

What makes proton radiation different?

Proton radiation can be directed to reach only the areas of the body that are affected by cancer. This leads to more accurate therapy, with less risk that healthy tissue will be exposed to radiation - and this can reduce the risk of complications and side effects.

Fewer treatment complications mean that physicians can deliver higher doses of proton radiation to cancer sites, and an increased dose of proton radiation can improve the chances for a successful outcome.

What is proton therapy? An effective alternative to traditional radiation that targets tumors and cancer cells more precisely.

Dr. Mendenhall

Proton therapy can deliver effective cancer treatment, with a low risk of side effects.

Targeted treatment is always important for cancer treatment, but it can be especially crucial for patients who have tumors in delicate areas of the body. For example, when patients with prostate cancer receive proton treatment, the bladder, rectum and other organs and tissue in the pelvic area receive less harmful radiation than they might with other treatments.

Children with cancer, patients with head and neck cancers, patients with cancer of the pancreas, breast and lung benefit from proton therapy in similar ways.

Proton therapy and the Bragg peak.

A natural phenomenon in the way that protons move and release their energy - called the Bragg peak - is what makes proton radiation useful for cancer treatment. The Bragg peak is the burst of energy released by protons when they reach the end of their path at the site of a tumor. In proton therapy, the Bragg peak can be placed at any depth in the tissue, according to the depth of the tumor.

Protons release their energy when they reach the site of a tumor.


Figure 1: The path of a single proton as it enters the body and deposits the vast majority of its energy at a single point. This phenomenon is referred to as the Bragg peak. Oncologists are able to manipulate the depth at which this takes place by controlling the speed of the proton. In addition, it is possible to “stack” protons in layers to cover an area in which a tumor is growing, thereby concentrating the radiation directly at the tumor site, with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue (See Figure 2).

Figure 2: A comparison of the amount of radiation delivered with conventional (high energy X-rays) radiation therapy versus proton therapy. Conventional therapy is distinguished by a relatively high entrance dose and exit dose. By contrast, proton therapy has a much lower entrance dose and no exit dose. The goal in radiation therapy is to minimize damage to healthy tissue by minimizing the tissue exposed in the entrance and exit doses. Proton therapy causes less damage to healthy tissue surrounding the tumor.

The University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute has treated more than 8,700 patients since 2006.

Learn More About Proton Therapy

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