Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of external radiotherapy that uses high-energy proton beams rather than photon x-ray beams or electrons. We were the first in the UK to invest in and deliver proton beam therapy for cancer patients.
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.
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 Centre to receive proton beam therapy, treatments will be delivered using the latest in proton therapy technology, including our movable gantry which can revolve a full 360-degrees around the treatment table, ensuring patients remain as comfortable as possible during treatment sessions. 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.
Side effects are significantly lower when undergoing proton beam therapy treatment and are similar to those experienced during conventional radiotherapy. 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. As with radiotherapy treatments, fatigue is a common side effect, however, the risk of experiencing nausea is reduced with proton beam therapy as doses are able to stop at the cancerous cells, preventing radiation from penetrating surrounding healthy tissue.
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.
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 patientsare comfortable before the treatment takes place. There may be some sensitivity in the area being treated but this normally occurs after the appointment has concluded.