What is Proton Therapy

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Treatment with Protons Explained

A Revolutionary Treatment That Attacks The Cancer, Not The Patient.

Proton therapy is a next-generation radiation treatment that precisely targets tumors, minimizing radiation to healthy tissue and improving the lives of patients with cancer. Proton therapy deposits the greatest amount of radiation right into the tumor and then stops, allowing patients to receive high doses with less risk of damage to nearby healthy tissue. This more targeted form of radiation is especially useful for pediatric cancers, where the impact of excess, harmful radiation causes long-term damage. Research shows proton therapy can minimize short- and long-term side effects, reduce the occurrence of secondary tumors and improve patients’ quality of life.

Pencil Beam Scanning

For patients who require more complex treatment, our Center also offers pencil beam scanning (PBS) to deliver proton therapy. PBS "paints" a tumor with a very thin, very precise beam of protons that's accurate within millimeters, reducing even further the amount of radiation to healthy tissue. PBS sends rapid pulses of protons to each planned spot within the tumor until the whole tumor is treated.

Spares healthy tissue to help speed recovery

Proton therapy is ionizing, high-energy radiation that uses the same mechanism to attack cancer cells as standard X-ray (photon) radiation. When external beam radiation is called for, proton therapy can be an effective option for treating many solid tumors.

Proton therapy is a powerful treatment for cancer and a highly effective alternative to standard X-ray radiation therapy. With proton therapy, less healthy tissue is exposed to radiation, which is expected to result in fewer short- and long-term side effects.

The improved dose distribution allows us to conform the radiation pattern to the tumor site, precisely targeting the tumor and reducing radiation to healthy tissue.

X-ray therapy for a brain tumor vs. proton therapy for a brain tumor.

With X-ray radiation therapy, more healthy tissue is exposed to radiation. With treatments utilizing proton beams, less healthy tissue is exposed to radiation (colored area indicates radiation exposure; gray/white area indicates no radiation exposure).

proton therapy for brain tumors



  • Less radiation delivered to healthy tissue and critical structures adjacent to the treatment area
  • Ability to deposit a larger dose in the targeted area
  • Fewer side effects and faster recovery due to precise delivery of radiation to target area

Precise application is ideal for a wide range of tumors

Precise targeting gives proton beam therapy a significant advantage over standard radiation therapy when treating tumors near vital organs.  Studies have shown proton therapies are beneficial in treating a broad range of tumors, including those of the brain, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, head and neck, left breast1, lung, and prostate, as well as sarcomas and certain childhood cancers.

If you have a solid tumor near a vital organ, or a recurrent tumor, you are a prime candidate for proton therapy.

Children benefit from reduced radiation exposure

Since proton beams are targeted, this therapy can be particularly effective in treating children, who are more sensitive to the effects of radiation. The precision of protons means children have a reduced chance of radiation side effects such as growth and developmental problems, as well as secondary tumors later in life. Our center has a radiation oncologist who specializes in proton therapy treatment for children.

Fast, painless, noninvasive

Treatments are safe, noninvasive and painless for most patients. Treatments do not require an overnight stay in the hospital. Treatments are usually given five days a week, for a period of four to eight weeks. The total number of treatments needed depends on the location and size of the tumor. The actual treatment time is about one minute but total daily treatment sessions typically range from 15 to 60 minutes due to the time spent positioning the patient for this precise treatment. You will come to the center every day for a short period of time, but then can go about your usual routine.

Researched and perfected for more than 60 years

As of 2017, more than 130,000 people worldwide have received proton therapy at centers in Europe, Asia and the United States. It was first used to treat patients in 1955 in a research setting, but its use was limited because imaging techniques at the time could not accurately pinpoint tumors. The FDA approved proton therapy in 1988, following advances in imaging technology, such as CT, MRI and PET scans. The first hospital-based treatment center opened in Loma Linda, California in 1990. SCCA Proton Therapy opened in 2013.


German physicist W.C. Roentgen discovers X-rays, making detection of tumors in the body much easier and non-invasive. Roentgen later wins the Nobel Prize in Physics for this discovery.

British physicist Ernest Rutherford demonstrates the existence of protons (elementary particles found in atoms).

American physicist Ernest O. Lawrence invents the cyclotron, a machine used in proton therapy, which accelerates charged particles to high energy levels.

The first clinical use of X-ray radiation therapy is carried out for the treatment of a patient with leukemia at the University of California at Berkeley. Congress passes the National Cancer Institute Act that authorizes annual funding for cancer research in the United States.

American physicist Robert Wilson publishes a study that suggests protons could be used to treat cancer because they are capable of delivering an increased dose of radiation to a tumor while simultaneously decreasing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

The first proton therapy experiments are conducted at the University of California at Berkeley. Tumors are effectively removed from the chest and lungs of animals.

The University of California at Berkeley treats the first human patient with protons. Patients are treated with protons at other research institutions, including Harvard University in Boston.

Advances in imaging technology, including CT, MRI and PET scans, help researchers to better diagnose and see tumors, making proton therapy, which requires identifying the precise location of a tumor, a more practical treatment option.

The first hospital-based proton treatment center in the United States is built at Loma Linda University Medical Center in Loma Linda, Calif.

The first patient is treated at Harvard/Massachusetts General Hospital’s Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center in Boston, the second hospital-based proton treatment center in the United States.

The Midwest Proton Radiotherapy Institute (MPRI), the third proton treatment center in the United States, opens in Bloomington, Ind.

Dr. John Cameron, a pioneer in the field of particle physics who was instrumental in the development of MPRI, founds ProCure Treatment Centers, Inc. to improve the lives of patients with cancer by increasing access to treatments centers that utilize protons.

The first patients are treated with protons at M.D. Anderson Cancer Treatment Center in Houston and the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute (UFPTI) in Jacksonville.

ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Oklahoma City opens July 8, 2009.

The University of Pennsylvania Roberts Proton Therapy Center opens in Philadelphia.
Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute in Hampton, Va. treats first patient in September.

CDH Proton Center, A ProCure Center opens in Warrenville, Ill. Oct.19; treats first patient in October.

ProCure Proton Therapy Center in Somerset, NJ opens.

On March 8, 2013, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy opens in Seattle. It’s the first proton center in the Northwest and the only one within a 1000-mile radius. Seattle Cancer Care Alliance is a world-class cancer treatment center that unites doctors from Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine and Seattle Children's.