In May 2016, an article in The Wall Street Journal examined the rise of proton beam therapy and why it’s still considered an “expensive and controversial cancer treatment.” The number of proton therapy vaults worldwide has nearly doubled in the past five years, according to Ion Beam Applications, but there’s still much to learn about this treatment and when it’s a viable option for patients.
Proton therapy is a highly specialized form of radiotherapy in which beams of fast-moving particles (protons) are used to treat tumors. It may be used to treat tumors that are solid (with defined borders) and inoperable. Gamma Knife treatment uses beams of photons to irradiate tumors in a similar way, but there are some differences between these two forms of radiation therapy.
With proton therapy, the depth of radiation penetration into the body can be controlled, theoretically allowing protons to stop traveling when they reach the end of the tumor, thus reducing the radiation dose beyond the tumor. However, several technical factors limit the ability to precisely predict the exact stopping point of the particles, due to a process called “range uncertainty.” The photons that Gamma Knife treatment utilizes, however, deposit their radiation dose in a much more predictable manner and are able to precisely target tumors in very sensitive locations with unparalled accuracy and precise control of a concentrated radiation dose to single or multiple tumors.
For many patients, other advantages of choosing Gamma Knife include:
Research — Proton therapy has been limited to just a few medical centers, so it doesn’t have the wealth of years of proven research and results that Gamma Knife treatment does.
Availability — Proton therapy isn’t widely available and this could delay treatments and/or require lengthy travel for some patients.
Cost — Proton therapy is much more expensive than Gamma Knife.
Metastatic Tumors — Proton therapy is recommended for primary tumors, which generally have defined borders and have not spread or metastasized. Gamma Knife can be used to treat single or multiple brain tumors that have spread from other parts of the body.
The type of radiation therapy that’s right for you depends on a number of factors that your oncologist will discuss with you.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor, contact the Valley Gamma Knife Center for a consultation and find out if Gamma Knife radiosurgery is the right treatment for you.