Proton Therapy vs. Gamma Knife

Proton therapy has been considered an expensive and controversial cancer treatment in past years. While the popularity of the treatment and number of treatment centers is on the rise, there is still much to learn about this treatment and if it’s a viable option for patients. 

What is Proton Therapy?

Proton therapy is a highly specialized form of radiation therapy in which beams of fast-moving particles, called protons, are used to treat tumors. It may be used to treat cancerous and non cancerous tumors and can be used in addition to other treatments, depending on the condition. 

With proton therapy, the depth of radiation penetration into the body can be controlled more accurately, reducing the radiation dose beyond the tumor and therefore limiting side effects. However, several technical factors limit the ability to precisely predict the exact stopping point of the energy particles to surrounding areas, due to a process called “range uncertainty.” Therefore, some healthy tissue can still be impacted by proton therapy energy. 

Differences Between Gamma Knife and Proton Therapy

Gamma Knife radiosurgery uses approximately 200 focused beams of low-dose radiation to irradiate tumors in a similar way, but there are some differences between these two forms of radiation therapy.

Gamma Knife is able to deposit radiation in a much more predictable manner and is able to precisely target tumors in the brain and head with unparalleled accuracy. Gamma Knife can target highly specific areas with precise control to single or multiple tumors with minimal impact to surrounding tissue. 

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 typically 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 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 relating to your condition. Speak to your doctor regarding the best treatment option for you. 

Next Steps

If you’ve been diagnosed with a brain tumor and have discussed the possibility of Gamma Knife as a treatment with your doctor, contact the Valley Gamma Knife Center to speak to a Nurse Navigator to learn more.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

Get Your Questions Answered, By a Real Person.

Our Patient Liaison is here to help you understand your next step. After discussing your specific case, she can help you navigate your medical records, answer insurance questions, and connect you with one of our nurses, at no charge to you.

Patient liaisons explain Gamma Knife surgery cost, outcomes, etc.