Prostate Cancer

Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Each year in the U.S., more than 200,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. Every one of these men is unique, with different disease profiles, ages, health backgrounds—and personal objectives for how their cancer treatment should impact their lives.

At Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), we take a multidisciplinary approach to treating prostate cancer. As a patient at SCCA, you have access to all the treatment options currently available, as well as leading-edge therapies offered only in clinical studies. SCCA patients receive proton therapy at SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center, located on UW Medicine’s Northwest Hospital & Medical Center campus (view map and directions).

For many men with prostate cancer—those whose cancer is least likely to progress—this disease can potentially be addressed with active surveillance or watchful waiting. For many others with localized cancers, a number of different treatments can be effective options: open prostatectomy, laparoscopic robot-assisted prostatectomy, conventional radiotherapy, brachytherapy—and now proton therapy.

For patients who require active intervention, each of these options has pros and cons in terms of the expected outcomes, the duration of treatment and recovery, the possible side effects, the financial costs, and the potential impact on quality of life. Learn more about prostate cancer treatment at SCCA.

The Benefits of Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Proton therapy offers a number of potential benefits in treating prostate cancer. These include:

  • Reduced radiation exposure to organs near the prostate, including the bladder and rectum, and the potential to lower the risk of genitourinary or gastrointestinal complications, due to the high precision of this therapy
  • Very low risk of long-term side effects including impact on urinary function, bowel function, and sexual potency
  • For most patients, minimal side effects during the treatment period and ability to maintain their normal life routines

SCCA medical oncologists and radiation oncologists are excited to have the opportunity to utilize proton therapy in treating prostate cancer. Research studies have demonstrated the efficacy of proton therapy, its relative safety even when higher doses are utilized, and a low incidence of incontinence and bowel dysfunction for men undergoing this treatment.

Current Clinical Studies and Research Opportunities

For many thousands of men, proton therapy has proved to be safe and effective in treating and curing their prostate cancer. Ongoing proton therapy studies, also called clinical trials, are being conducted to evaluate the relative gains of proton therapy compared to conventional radiation approaches, such as intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT), an advanced form of external-beam radiation therapy, in treating prostate cancer. 

In addition to cancer survival outcomes, we believe that quality-of-life outcomes will be important to examine to definitively compare proton therapy to IMRT. These quality-of-life factors include impacts of these treatments on men’s urinary, bowel, and sexual functions.  

At SCCA, we see this as a great opportunity to lead clinical trials to help define the future role of proton therapy in prostate cancer. SCCA researchers are members of the Proton Collaborative Group, a nonprofit, working association of more than 80 community and research-center physicians that is currently conducting multicenter proton clinical trials in prostate, breast, and lung cancer.

Research into Potential Benefits

In men with favorable disease profiles, protons may prove to be a safe approach to reduce the length of the course of treatment, while maintaining high cure rates and a low risk of side effects. A shorter treatment duration would pose obvious advantages in reducing health care costs and minimizing disruptions to patients’ everyday lives. 

In men with more unfavorable disease characteristics who are at high risk of relapse, proton therapy may help improve treatment outcomes. Proton therapy may enable doctors to apply more effective systemic therapies—novel therapeutics or chemotherapy—in combination with radiotherapy without increasing the toxicity of side effects. Proton therapy may also allow higher doses of radiation to be safely used, which may improve tumor control.

These are still unanswered questions that we hope to address with clinical studies. Find out about proton therapy studies currently open and accepting patients at SCCA. For more information about participating in SCCA’s clinical studies, please see our Patient Guide to Clinical Studies, and talk with our radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, and surgeons.

A Personal Decision

At SCCA, we believe that you need to hear and carefully weigh all of your options for prostate cancer treatment. Many patients and their families find it a challenge to make a decision about which treatment to pursue when faced with many different treatment options. Each treatment affects patients differently; no one approach is right for all. 

It’s important that you discuss these treatment alternatives with an experienced multidisciplinary team of leading prostate cancer specialists like we have at SCCA; it’s also critical that you choose the treatment that best fits with your life.