Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

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Treatment for lung cancer usually means surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. Standard radiation treatments can work well. But they also expose nearby healthy tissue, such as your heart and esophagus, to radiation. This can raise your risk of major heart events later in life. 

Proton therapy is an advanced treatment that delivers radiation to the exact size, shape and depth of your tumor. It allows your physician to treat your cancer while helping to protect other tissue and organs in the area.

Margery's Story / Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center - Proton Therapy

"While getting a cancer diagnosis — or even two, in my case — is scary, I felt that my medical care team at Fred Hutch was there to fight for me. I feel very lucky to have these amazing resources and medical professionals there for me."

— Dawn, lung cancer patient

Tough on Your Tumor. Easier on Your Body.

With standard X-ray radiation therapy, the radiation dose is highest right where the X-rays enter your body. The X-rays keep giving off radiation as they go through your tumor and the tissue beyond. This can lead to side effects, like heart damage or trouble swallowing. 

Until recently, patients and physicians accepted these side effects as a trade-off for treating the cancer. But with proton radiation therapy, we can reduce the risks. Proton therapy sends radiation exactly to your tumor. The goal is for less radiation to reach your healthy tissue nearby.

lung scan
These pictures show treatment for lung cancer. The colored areas get radiation. The black, gray and white areas do not. With proton therapy (left), less healthy tissue is exposed to radiation. With standard X-ray radiation therapy (right), more healthy tissue is exposed.

Proton therapy uses a unique feature of protons: They give off the most radiation right before they come to a stop. Then the radiation falls to zero. That’s how we target treatment to your cancer and no further.

If you have lung cancer, the radiation oncologists at our proton therapy facility can decide if proton therapy is right for you and tell you more about this option.

Bragg Peak Graph
With X-ray radiation therapy (dark blue line), the radiation dose peaks soon after entering the body. Then it gradually decreases, often long before reaching the tumor. Healthy tissue around the tumor receives much of the dose instead. With proton therapy (medium blue and purple lines), treatment conforms more closely to the tumor. This means less radiation is deposited in the healthy tissue in front of the tumor compared to X-ray therapy. Almost none is deposited in the healthy tissue beyond the tumor.

Proton Therapy Facts

  • Radiation to the heart raises the risk of heart problems later in life by 7.4 percent per gray (a unit of radiation). Compared to X-ray radiation, proton therapy lowers the amount of radiation that reaches your heart and other tissue and organs nearby.
  • Pencil-beam scanning (PBS) is a proton technology that allows for even more accuracy. PBS “paints” your tumor with a lot of very thin, very precise beams of protons. The beams are accurate down to millimeters.
  • 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.
  • 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.