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Source Newsroom: University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center
Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer in the U.S., causing more deaths than the next three most common cancers – colon, breast and prostate – combined. Worldwide, lung cancer accounts for 1.3 million deaths annually. An estimated $10.3 billion per year is spent in the U.S. on lung cancer treatment alone, yet those diagnosed with the disease have just a 15 percent survival rate.
"By combining proton therapy with chemotherapy, targeted molecular therapies and other promising modalities, the Proton Therapy Center is leading the next generation of lung cancer care, research, education and prevention."
- James Cox, M.D
“MD Anderson is at the forefront of the most advanced lung cancer treatments available. It is part of our mission to raise awareness of proton therapy as a potential option for people fighting for their lives,” says James D. Cox, M.D., former head of Radiation Oncology at MD Anderson. “When the Proton Therapy Center was established in 2006, for example, it was the first to treat lung cancer with protons and chemotherapy.”
What is Proton Therapy and How is it Different? Proton therapy is a form of external beam radiation using particles (protons) instead of photons (X-rays) to treat tumors. Both forms of radiation destroy cancer cells by causing their DNA to malfunction.
Photons deposit the majority of their dose within the first inch after they reach the skin, and continue to deposit doses beyond the tumor. Hitting a deep tumor with just one or two X-ray beams is difficult and often requires many different beams - resulting in more radiation exposure to healthy tissues and organs, such as the heart.
Proton therapy deposits most of the dose at the tumor and stop traveling after hitting the target. This allows the use of fewer beams and greater sparing of normal tissues and organs.
Proton Therapy at MD Anderson
Roughly 15 to 20 percent of lung cancer patients have tumors that can be treated with surgery combined with other therapies such as radiation. Another 30 to 50 percent of patients have locally advanced tumors that require a combined treatment regimen that includes chemo or targeted therapy in addition to radiation therapy. However, it is challenging to deliver an adequate dose of radiation to a cancerous tumor while sparing nearby normal tissues.
Proton therapy’s advantage for many lung cancer patients is based on this feature. Further, by minimizing the exposure of normal tissues, proton treatment may also reduce some of the side effects of traditional radiation and help patients maintain good quality of life.
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