Proton Therapy for Gastrointestinal Cancers

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Proton therapy is an advanced treatment that sends radiation to the exact size, shape and depth of your tumor. It allows your physician to treat your cancer while helping to protect nearby tissue. This makes proton therapy a good option for treating tumors near healthy organs, like gastrointestinal (GI) tumors.

Types of Gastrointestinal Tumors Treated with Proton Therapy

Proton radiation therapy may be an option for people with a wide range of GI cancers, including:

  • Esophageal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic and bile duct cancers
  • Liver cancer and liver metastases
  • Rectal cancer
  • Anal cancer
  • Some cancers that have come back or spread to distant parts of the body

Tough on Your Tumor. Easier on Your Body.

To treat GI tumors, physicians often use radiation therapy along with chemotherapy or surgery. This combination can be hard on patients, and some patients can’t have standard X-ray radiation therapy because it would cause too much harm to the healthy tissue near their tumor. For these patients, proton radiation therapy can be a good choice. It sends more radiation to the tumor with a goal of sending much less to nearby tissue and organs, often causing fewer side effects.

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center providers Jing Zeng, MD, and Smith Apisarnthanarax MD, have studied proton therapy for esophageal cancers. Their work showed that physicians can safely treat esophageal cancer with proton therapy using pencil-beam scanning and a single proton beam that goes through the patient’s back.

Active Breathing Coordinator

Tumors in your abdomen tend to move when you breathe. This can make radiation therapy less exact. To keep your proton beam on target, we use a device called the Active Breathing Coordinator. It helps you hold your breath briefly — and keep your tumor in the same place — while the proton beam is on. (You are always in control and can release the hold to breathe, if you need to.) 

Proton Therapy Facts

  • Pencil-beam scanning (PBS) lets us match your treatment to the size, shape and depth of your tumor. PBS “paints” your tumor with a lot of very thin, very precise beams of protons. The beams are accurate down to millimeters.
  • Proton therapy lowers the amount of radiation that reaches nearby tissue and organs.
  • Proton therapy may be an option for you even if you’ve already had radiation for cancer. In fact, it may be your only option for getting more radiation treatment.
  • Treatments are safe, noninvasive (no cuts to the skin are needed) and painless for most patients, helping you recover faster and keep living your life.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved proton therapy for clinical use in 1988. More than 200,000 people worldwide have had this form of treatment.

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Our proton therapy team is here not only to treat your disease, but to listen to you and take care of you and your family. They are experts in proton therapy who focus on giving you personalized treatment and who understand your questions, needs and concerns.