Treatments

Proton therapy

Proton therapy is a technologically advanced, precise treatment that allows radiation to be focused directly on a tumor, with a goal of minimizing radiation to healthy tissue. Research shows that proton therapy can minimize short- and long-term side effects, reduce the occurrence of secondary tumors, and improve a patient’s quality of life.  

There are fewer than 100 proton therapy centers worldwide that offer this state-of-the-art technology, and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) Proton Therapy Center, led by world-class experts in proton therapy, is the only facility of its kind in a seven-state region. 

Secondary cancer A cancer that has spread (metastasized) from the place where it first started to another part of the body. Secondary cancers are the same type of cancer as the original (primary) cancer. A term used to describe cancer that has spread (metastasized) from the place where it first started to another part of the body. Secondary cancers are the same type of cancer as the original (primary) cancer. For example, cancer cells may spread from the breast (primary cancer) to form new tumors in the lung (secondary cancer). The cancer cells in the lung are just like the ones in the breast. Also called secondary tumor. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

Telehealth consultations available

At the SCCA Proton Therapy Center, we now offer convenient telehealth appointments for new and existing patients from the state of Washington to discuss treatment options and follow-up care from home. 

During a telehealth consultation, you will meet with your physician via videoconferencing or by phone to discuss your cancer type and treatment options, including proton therapy. If you are an existing SCCA patient, you may also have the option to complete your follow-up appointments during treatment via telehealth.   

When the time comes to visit the Center in person, you can rest assured that we are taking increased precautions to keep both patients and staff safe in light of the COVID-19 virus. 

Learn more on the SCCA Proton Therapy Center website

“It’s a privilege that my job is to help people in their time of need. Work doesn’t feel like work when you know what you’re doing is meaningful.”
— Jing Zeng, MD, Medical Director

Adults and children

Proton radiation therapy can be used to treat a broad range of tumors in adults and children, such as brain, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, head and neck, breast, lung and prostate, as well as sarcomas. It can also help patients whose cancers have recurred, and patients who can’t tolerate additional radiation therapy. 

Click one of the buttons below to learn about proton therapy and adult cancers, childhood cancers or information for parents and guardians:

Gastrointestinal Refers to the stomach and intestines. Also called GI. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.

FAQ: Proton therapy and you

Is proton radiation therapy a good approach for all types of cancers?

No. It is most effective when used to treat solid tumors that are well defined and those that have not spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.  If the tumor has metastasized, proton therapy may still be an option, depending on the extent of the metastasis and other factors.

Can proton therapy be used in combination with other cancer treatments?

In many cases, yes. Cancer treatment frequently involves more than one approach. For example, proton radiation therapy can be used with chemotherapy, in conjunction with surgery, and/or in combination with conventional radiation delivered with X-rays. If your disease can be treated most effectively with a combination of therapies, your physician will discuss this with you. 

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.
Can proton radiation therapy be used to treat recurrent cancers?

In many cases, yes. Proton therapy can be used to treat recurrent cancers that are untreatable by conventional radiation. Patients should discuss proton radiation therapy with their physician (radiation oncologist) to determine if it can be beneficial in their particular case. Proton therapy can also be an option for patients who have already had a course of conventional radiation and are unable to receive more.

Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body. Recurrence Cancer that has come back, usually after a period during which it could not be detected. It may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or someplace else. Also called recurrent cancer.

SCCA Proton Therapy Center

Located on the UW Medical Center Northwest campus at 1570 N 115th St. Seattle, WA 98133
phone (206) 306-2800
Monday – Friday 8am to 5pm
fax (206) 417-0467

FAQ: What to expect

How long will my treatment last?

Most patients are scheduled to receive therapy five days a week (excluding weekends and holidays) for a period of four to nine weeks, depending on a variety of factors, such as the type of tumor and where it is located.

I live outside the Seattle area and will need a place to stay while I’m being treated. Can you help me?

Yes. Our concierge can tell you about options and help you find housing.

Do I need to get approval in advance from my insurance provider to receive proton therapy?

Yes. While most private insurance plans, Medicare, and in many cases, Medicaid, cover proton therapy, some do not. For this reason, it’s important to get approval in advance before receiving proton therapy.  

We will assign you a Patient Navigator who will help you understand your insurance coverage, as well as estimated costs associated with treatment. If you do not have insurance coverage, your Patient Navigator can assist you in finding alternative ways to cover the costs of your treatment. 

Learn About Costs and Coverage

Patient navigator A person who helps guide a patient through the health care system. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. A person who helps guide a patient through the health care system. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. A patient navigator helps patients communicate with their health care providers so they get the information they need to make decisions about their care. Patient navigators may help patients set up appointments for physician visits and medical tests and get financial, legal and social support. They may also work with insurance companies, employers, case managers, lawyers and others who may have an effect on a patient’s health care needs. Also called a patient advocate.
How long will each treatment session take?

The time spent delivering proton therapy is only a few minutes, but the entire treatment session may take up to 30 minutes. Much of your appointment time will be used to ensure that your positioning is identical to the one created during the CT simulation process. This is achieved by daily imaging, and the use of special immobilization devices such as: masks, leg molds, headrests, sponges and pillows. Many of the devices that are used are customizable and made just for you to ensure that you receive an accurate treatment.  

Learn More

Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Imaging In medicine, a process that makes pictures of areas inside the body. Imaging uses methods such as X-rays (high-energy radiation), ultrasound (high-energy sound waves) and radio waves.
How long will the radiation remain in my body after proton therapy?

Proton radiation has a very short life. Once the protons are delivered, you can leave the treatment room without any risk of radiation exposure to others.

What side effects might I experience?

Typically, there are no or few side effects from proton therapy. If there are side effects during or after treatment, they are generally minor and occur after a number of treatments. Before treatment begins, your physician will discuss with you any side effects that could occur. If you do experience any side effects, your nurse will help you manage them.  

Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores. Side effects A problem that occurs when treatment affects healthy tissues or organs. Some side effects of cancer treatment are nausea, vomiting, fatigue, pain, decreased blood cell counts, hair loss and mouth sores.

Treatment overview 

At your first in-person appointment, you’ll meet with your radiation oncologist and a nurse to discuss proton therapy, your treatment and any tests you may need before treatment can begin.  

You’ll also meet other members of your care team, such as a radiation therapist and patient navigator/concierge, who will work with you throughout your treatment and follow-up care. This is also a time for us to get to know you and your family and for you to get answers to any remaining questions you may have about proton radiation therapy.  

Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Patient navigator A person who helps guide a patient through the health care system. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. A person who helps guide a patient through the health care system. This includes help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer. A patient navigator helps patients communicate with their health care providers so they get the information they need to make decisions about their care. Patient navigators may help patients set up appointments for physician visits and medical tests and get financial, legal and social support. They may also work with insurance companies, employers, case managers, lawyers and others who may have an effect on a patient’s health care needs. Also called a patient advocate. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.

Simulation and planning 

After your first appointment and you’ve completed any additional tests you may need, we will schedule you for a computed tomography simulation (CT) scan.  This scan will be used by your care team to create a personalized treatment plan for you. The plan will provide important details, including the exact dose of protons your physician will need to precisely target your tumor.  

This scan will take up to two hours, including preparation time. A nurse will also explain the process from CT simulation through the end of treatment and answer any questions you may have.  

Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Computed tomography A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A procedure that uses a computer linked to an X-ray machine to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. The pictures are taken from different angles and are used to create three-dimensional (3-D) views of tissues and organs. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the tissues and organs show up more clearly. This scan may be used to help diagnose disease, plan treatment or find out how well treatment is working. Treatment plan A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A detailed plan with information about a patient’s disease, the goal of treatment, the treatment options for the disease and the possible side effects and expected length of treatment. A treatment plan may also include information about how much the treatment is likely to cost and about regular follow-up care after treatment ends.

Treatment

Proton therapy typically takes about four to nine weeks. We’ll guide you every step of the way through the treatment process, and make sure you and your family have the information and resources you need.  

When you’ve completed treatment and it’s time to go home, you’ll still be in contact either with us or your referring physician.

FAQ: Proton therapy technology

What technology does SCCA Proton Therapy offer?

The driving force behind proton radiation therapy is a machine called a cyclotron that energizes protons so they can be used in treatment. First, electricity is applied to hydrogen gas, which causes atoms to eject protons. The cyclotron then spins these protons and a magnet guides them via a beam from the cyclotron to the tumor. 

Learn More

Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.
How do proton beams destroy cancer cells?

All radiation therapies, including protons and conventional radiation delivered with X-rays, destroy cancer cells by damaging their DNA. When protons reach the nucleus (or center) of cancer cells, they transfer energy to the cells’ electrons causing a series of interactions, or ionizing events, that damage the DNA. Cancer cells whose DNA is damaged beyond repair can no longer divide—and they ultimately die. These cells are then broken down and eliminated by the body’s natural processes.

Why don’t protons do more damage to healthy tissues?

Proton radiation can be precisely calibrated and directed to release most of its energy at the site of the tumor. Thus, higher doses of radiation typically can be delivered more safely with proton therapy as it poses much less exposure to healthy tissue. It’s also helpful to know that proton therapy deposits less radiation in the healthy tissue in front of the tumor compared to conventional radiation delivered with X-rays, and almost none is deposited in the healthy tissue behind the tumor.

Is conventional radiation as effective as protons in destroying tumors?

Conventional radiation and proton radiation can be equally effective in destroying cancer tumors. The difference is that conventional radiation damages more healthy tissue in the process, as its delivery is less precise. Also, conventional radiation releases much of its energy shortly after penetrating the skin. This damages healthy tissue and organs as the x-rays make their way to the tumor and again as they continue through the body beyond the tumor.  

Care team

Your Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) proton therapy team is here not only to treat you, but to listen to you and take care of you and your family. They are experts in the field of proton radiation therapy, and focus exclusively on treating patients just like you, every day, and understand your questions, needs and concerns.  

Your team includes a group of world-class professionals including a radiation oncologist, radiation therapist, nurse, physicist and dosimetrist, all here to support you. We integrate supportive care services, such as social workers, child life specialists, registered dietitians and integrative medicine specialists, to promote your well-being in every sense.  

Dosimetrist Dosimetrists ensure radiation therapy is specifically directed to the disease within the patient's body. Integrative medicine Combines conventional (standard) medical treatment with complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies that have been shown to be safe and to work. CAM therapies treat the mind, body and spirit. Oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment, such as treating cancer with radiation. A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancer. Some oncologists specialize in a particular type of cancer treatment. For example, a radiation oncologist specializes in treating cancer with radiation. Radiation therapy The use of high-energy radiation from X-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. The use of high-energy radiation from x-rays, gamma rays, neutrons, protons and other sources to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external-beam radiation therapy), or it may come from radioactive material placed in the body near cancer cells (internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy). Systemic radiation therapy uses a radioactive substance, such as a radiolabeled monoclonal antibody, that travels in the blood to tissues throughout the body.

Research

The physician-scientists at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) have been at the forefront of cancer research for decades, in order to help bring patients the best treatment options possible.  

Patients who participate in our clinical studies often have the first chance to benefit from new treatment approaches and contribute to medical science regarding proton therapy.

Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease.