What is Proton Therapy

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Treat the Breast Cancer, Protect the Heart

Treat the Breast Cancer, Protect the Heart

Treating cancer can often be like walking a thin line between curing the patient’s body and preserving the healthy tissues from harm due to the treatment. When it comes to breast cancer, this struggle is compounded because one of our most vital organs lays beneath the chest: the heart. An estimated 332,630 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and each individual will have to start making tough decisions when it comes to their treatment options. Many patients may want to consider proton therapy, as it reduces the amount of radiation being delivered to noncancerous tissues, including the heart.

Radiation is measured in a unit called “grays,” or Gr, that essentially measures the amount of radiation being absorbed per kilogram of matter. Traditional radiation therapy for breast cancer will deliver about 50 to 60 Gr over the course of the treatment, with 4.9% of the total being delivered to the heart. A patient who receives proton therapy will have a 99% reduction in radiation exposure to the heart and a 54% reduction in radiation exposure to the entire body. This decrease in radiation improves a patient’s quality of life, provides options to those who may have already received radiation, and reduces the risk of secondary cancers. In the case of breast cancer, it also reduces the risk of cardiac arrest in patients receiving radiation treatments.

A 2013 study found that for every Gr delivered to the heart, a patient’s likelihood of experiencing a major coronary event, such as cardiac arrest, goes up by 7.4%. This is even more pervasive in those with cancer in the left breast, closest to the heart. The decrease in heart radiation through proton therapy can take a lot off the mind of someone who is already dealing with a life-altering diagnosis. When fighting breast cancer the last thing you want to be worried about is the possibility of heart disease. Proton therapy offers a way to treat the cancer while protecting the heart.