Proton Therapy: A Game Changer in Cancer Treatment

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Proton therapy is a game changer for cancer treatment in kids and young adults.

I’ve spent my entire career working with great teams of people who put their blood, sweat and tears into finding the best outcomes for kids with cancer. We strive daily to put ourselves out of business, with the ultimate goal of eradicating cancer.

Proton therapy puts us one giant step closer to accomplishing that objective. I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re getting closer to finding a cure because of new advances, and the Proton Therapy & Research Center that we officially opened in August 2016, is a huge advance.

In simple terms, proton therapy is a newer and advanced technology to kill tumors with radiation in a much more precise manner. Traditional radiotherapy is like a flashlight beam – it strikes both the cancerous cells and the surrounding healthy tissue. With proton therapy, the stream of proton particles targets only the cancerous cells and then stops.  This allows us to deliver more accurate and higher doses of cancer-killing energy and minimizing the risk of damaging healthy tissue.

Because proton therapy is likely to be better than current radiation approaches for more than 70-80 percent of children with cancer, we’re able to improve care for a lot more kids with cancer.

Here are four more reasons why proton therapy is a game changer in cancer treatment:

  1. It reduces side effects and secondary cancers. While we do everything we can to make traditional radiation as safe as possible, we know that as much as a third of a radiation dose can hit something in the body other than the targeted tumor. This can lead to some bad immediate side effects and secondary cancers.
  2. It’s going to improve long-term outcomes. Similarly, because of the more precise nature of proton therapy, we expect it to improve long-term outcomes for kids with cancer. We know that stray radiation can lead to conditions like heart disease many years down the road or neurocognitive challenges in kids with brain tumors. In many cases, proton therapy will decrease the risk of those long-term consequences.
  3. It is at the core of new treatments to provide new cures for kids with cancer. We already have many options to treat cancer, such as surgery and chemotherapy, but they create a lot of side effects, and the path to cure is often a long battle. While proton therapy may not replace those therapies, our research will combine it with many different new types of precision medicine and immune therapy treatments to deliver the best, most effective and personalized treatment for each patient.
  4. Our Proton Therapy Center helps us take the technology to the next level. Our center is a one of a kind facility. It has the country’s only “built-in” research center – including the only proton beam delivery system and treatment room fully dedicated to research, along with integrated laboratories. This will give us tools that haven’t been available to understand how this new therapy works and to make it work even better.  We also have a big genomics project that will help us to determine which children and which tumors will benefit the most from the treatment.

And finally, proton therapy is a game changer because it reflects the audacity of the possible: What we can potentially do to cure cancer with this new facility and therapy. It’s already forging international collaborations and bringing new teams of people together from different fields like engineering, physics and design to work with cancer doctors and lab researchers. That’s how new ideas and new thinking happens, and how we’ll ultimately cure cancer once and for all.

John Perentesis, MD

About the Author: John Perentesis, MD

Dr. Perentesis is executive co-director of the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute and director of the division of oncology and cancer programs at Cincinnati Children's.

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