What is Proton Therapy

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Getting Treated FAQ

Understanding Your Treatment Process.

What will happen to me during the therapy session?

You will check in with the concierge in order to let your Care Team know you have arrived. A treatment team assistant or your radiation therapist will escort you to your treatment room or to a changing room. Your radiation therapist will have everything ready for you before treatment begins. You will lie on a treatment bed and your therapists will make adjustments to make certain you are properly positioned for each treatment session. Since proton therapy is precise, you must lie in a specific position to ensure the proton beam reaches its target. You will be asked to lie still during setup and while the proton beam is on. Your Care Team will determine your proper positioning by taking x-rays and you will automatically be moved into position with our robotic positioning system before each treatment. Comparing the x-rays to your treatment plan ensures the proton beam precisely hits your tumor. Members of your Care Team will be on hand to support you throughout your therapy session, which lasts between 15 minutes and an hour. The proton beam itself will be on for only a couple minutes. After you have received protons, you can go about your usual business.

What will I feel during my therapy?

You will feel no pain or discomfort during proton therapy treatments. If you feel pain or discomfort, it is usually due to the underlying condition. Protons entering the body themselves cannot be felt. If you are experiencing discomfort, please let your Care Team know.

Will treatment burn my skin?

You may experience redness or skin irritation at the site where the proton beam enters the body, but it is generally minor. Your Care Team can let you know how to deal with or alleviate this.

How long will my treatment sessions take?

The time spent actually delivering the protons to the tumor is about one minute. The entire treatment session can range from 15 to 60 minutes as final checks are made and you are moved into position on a treatment bed. You also may be asked to come to the center ahead of your scheduled treatment time for pretreatment preparations such as changing into a gown and robe.

How will I know if the treatment is working?

As with most cancer cases, long-term success means there are no signs of cancer coming back or growing again after treatment has been completed. All patients have a follow-up visit at the center based on the standards of care for their disease. Out of town patients can conduct these visits with their local doctors.

How do I know the protons are going where they are supposed to go?

An entire treatment team makes sure the protons go exactly where they are supposed to go. Our doctors are experts in proton therapy, and our physicists know just how to control the proton beam to get the prescription the doctor asked for. Protons can be precisely controlled with speed, as well as the apertures and compensators made in exactly the shape of your tumor.

Will my family and friends be able to come with me to proton therapy?

We welcome your family and friends at the center any time. They cannot accompany you into the treatment room, but your treatment will not take very long. We have a comfortable waiting area for your family and friends while you receive treatment, as well as a playroom for children.

Will I see my radiation oncologist every day during my treatment visit?

You will be scheduled to meet your radiation oncologist once a week for a checkup and to document your progress. If you need to see your doctor more frequently or have questions, please do not hesitate to speak to one of your Care Team nurses who will help you and coordinate additional visits when necessary. We strive to have you see the same doctor every time, however, you may sometimes see one of our other radiation oncologists. All our radiation oncologists keep abreast of their colleagues’ patients.

What are the side effects of proton therapy?

One of the most important benefits of proton therapy is that patients have fewer side effects than with standard X-ray radiation because there is less damage to healthy tissue. Most people have no side effects or they are very mild. Before treatment begins, your doctor will discuss possible side effects you may encounter. Your Care Team nurse will help you manage side effects if they do occur.

Will I lose my hair?

Most proton patients do not experience hair loss. Every case is different, especially if the patient is having other treatments such as chemotherapy at the same time.

Will I be tired during therapy?

Your illness may cause you to feel tired, but in most cases, patients who receive proton therapy are able to continue their normal routines after their daily treatment.

I am very active. Can I continue to exercise during my treatment?

Please discuss your fitness routine with your doctor or other members of your Care Team. In most instances, you will be encouraged to continue to exercise, but it should be discussed with your Care Team to be certain you will not overexert yourself.

Should I change my diet or take supplements before my treatment starts?

You should consult with your doctor or Care Team nurse before making changes in your diet or taking supplements. The center can arrange for you to speak with a registered dietician who can help you plan a diet that is right for you. Please contact our Patient Services department at 1-855-528-7248. Proton therapy does not require you to take any special supplements or to fast.

What if I need treatment in addition to proton therapy or get sick with another illness not related to my tumor?

Your Care Team nurse will assist you in getting any additional medical care you need.

Where have your physicians and staff trained?

Having trained at some of the best cancer centers in the country, including UW Medicine, Harvard, MD Anderson, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, the radiation oncologists who practice at our center are leaders in the field and are known for clinical excellence as well as research in cancer care. All physicians who practice at the center have been trained in proton therapy.

Your Care Team nurses have nursing degrees and a background in medical oncology or neuro surgery. We’ve recruited some of our nurses from UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s.

Your radiation therapists have degrees in Radiation Therapy with specialized proton therapy training.

Will there be coordination with my local doctor?

We will ask you to provide us with your local doctor’s contact information so we can share copies of your records and keep your doctor informed of your progress. We will also follow up with your doctor after your therapy is complete.

Will I need additional tests before my treatments begin?

During your consultation visit to the center, your doctor may decide that additional tests are needed to plan your treatment - tests such as blood work, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

How do I arrange for additional tests?

Your Care Team nurse will help coordinate and schedule any tests you need. If you do not have a local health care provider, the center will arrange for your treatments at our partners Seattle Cancer Care Alliance or Seattle Children’s.

If I take additional tests, how will I find out the results?

If you have additional tests done before treatment, your Care Team nurse will contact you to inform you of the results.

Why do I need another CT scan?

After you’ve had your consultation and any additional tests you may need, you will be scheduled to come to the center for a CT scan. Unlike your previous CTs, which were used to diagnose you, this scan is used to gather images of your tumor from many angles so that your doctor and other experts in proton therapy can “see” it clearly and pinpoint its exact location, shape, and size. The CT images will be used to construct a customized treatment plan that is specifically for you.

What are immobilization devices and what kinds do you use?

To make sure your body stays still and exactly in place, your radiation therapists will use one or more immobilization devices. These include masks to keep your head in position if your tumor is located in your brain or face or upper spine, and vaclock bags to keep your body positioned correctly if your tumor is located in the body.

When will I begin my proton therapy?

You will begin your proton therapy after your customized treatment plan is complete. This is a complicated process that may take up to two weeks (usually less). A member of your Care Team will contact you to schedule your first treatment session. Your schedule will depend on which treatment room is right for you. We will work with you to select a treatment time that works for your schedule. At the end of each week, you will be given a treatment schedule for the following week.

Can I get in touch with other proton therapy patients?

Yes. We can put you in contact with a number of proton patients who are happy to share their experience with you. Please call Patient Services Team now at 1-855-528-7248 and let them know of your interest, and they will make sure you are connected to the support you need. We also host a weekly Wednesday luncheon where you can meet other patients who are having proton therapy and people who have completed their therapy.

How can I become a mentor to other patients?

If you would like to share your experiences and support others who are considering proton therapy, please contact a member of our Patient Services Team at 1-855-528-7248.

Do you have accommodations for patients traveling to Seattle for treatment?

As the only proton therapy center in the northwest, we often treat patients traveling for treatment. We have a concierge who can assist with accommodations, transportations and any special needs. We have also compiled a list of recommended accommodations and information about visiting Seattle.

Learn More

How Do I Talk To My Doctor?

If you’re considering proton therapy, you’ll want to talk to your doctor. We’ve put together a list of questions you may find useful for asking your doctor about treatment options.