At Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center – Proton Therapy, we're here to guide you through the treatment process and provide answers your questions about proton radiation treatment. Here are answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.
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You will check in with the concierge in order to let your care team know you have arrived. A care team member will escort you to your treatment room or to a changing room, and will have everything ready for you before treatment begins. Your radiation therapist will have everything ready for you before treatment begins. You will lie on a treatment bed and your therapists will make adjustments to make certain you are properly positioned for each treatment session. Since proton therapy is precise, you must lie in a specific position to ensure the proton beam reaches its target. You will be asked to lie still during setup and while the proton beam is on.
Your care team will determine your proper positioning by taking x-rays and you will automatically be moved into position with our robotic positioning system before each treatment. Comparing the x-rays to your treatment plan ensures the proton beam precisely hits your tumor. Members of your care team will be on hand to support you throughout your therapy session, which lasts between 15 minutes and an hour. The proton beam itself will be on for only a couple minutes. After you have received protons, you can go about your usual business.
Most patients do not feel pain or discomfort during proton therapy treatments. If you feel pain or discomfort, it is usually due to the underlying condition. Protons entering the body themselves cannot be felt. If you are experiencing discomfort, please let your care team know.
You may experience redness or skin irritation at the site where the proton beam enters the body, but it is generally minor. Your care team can let you know how to deal with or alleviate this.
The time spent actually delivering the protons to the tumor is about one minute. The entire session will take about 30 minutes as final checks are made and you are moved into position on a treatment bed. You also may be asked to come to the center ahead of your scheduled treatment time for pretreatment preparations such as changing into a gown and robe. No recovery time is needed, and you may immediately return to your normal daily activities.
As with most cancer cases, long-term success means there are no signs of cancer coming back or growing again after treatment has been completed. All patients have a follow up visit at the center based on the standards of care for their disease. Out of town patients can conduct these visits with their local doctors.
An entire treatment team makes sure the protons go exactly where they are supposed to go. Our doctors are experts in proton therapy, and our physicists know just how to control the proton beam to get the prescription the doctor asked for. Protons can be precisely controlled with speed, as well as the apertures and compensators made in exactly the shape of your tumor.
In order to minimize the risk of COVID-19, visitors are not allowed to enter the center with patients unless they are considered an essential caregiver. Examples of an essential caregiver are a parent accompanying a minor or a person who assists with a patient’s daily activities due to mobility issues. Patients may have up to one visitor accompany them into the center for consultations or weekly on-treatment visit (OTVs) with the doctor. All other visitors will be asked to wait in their car until the patient has completed their appointment.
You will be scheduled to meet your radiation oncologist once a week for a checkup and to document your progress. If you need to see your doctor more frequently or have questions, please do not hesitate to speak to one of your care team nurses who will help you and coordinate additional visits when necessary. We strive to have you see the same doctor every time, however, you may sometimes see one of our other radiation oncologists. All our radiation oncologists keep abreast of their colleagues’ patients.
One of the most important benefits of proton therapy is that patients have fewer side effects than with standard X-ray radiation because there is less damage to healthy tissue. Most people have no side effects or they are very mild. Before treatment begins, your doctor will discuss possible side effects you may encounter. Your care team nurse will help you manage side effects if they do occur.
Most proton patients do not experience hair loss. Every case is different, especially if the patient is having other treatments such as chemotherapy at the same time.
Your illness may cause you to feel tired, but in most cases, patients who receive proton therapy are able to continue their normal routines after their daily treatment.
Please discuss your fitness routine with your doctor or other members of your care team. In most instances, you will be encouraged to continue to exercise, but it should be discussed with your care team to be certain you will not overexert yourself.
You should consult with your doctor or care team nurse before making changes in your diet or taking supplements. The center can arrange for you to speak with a registered dietician who can help you plan a diet that is right for you. Please contact our Patient Services department at 1-844-874-6679. Proton therapy does not require you to take any special supplements or to fast.
Your care team nurse will assist you in getting any additional medical care you need.
Having trained at some of the best cancer centers in the country, including UW Medicine, Harvard, MD Anderson, University of Pennsylvania, Stanford, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins, the radiation oncologists who practice at our center are leaders in the field and are known for clinical excellence as well as research in cancer care. All physicians who practice at the center have been trained in proton therapy.
Your care team nurses have nursing degrees and a background in medical oncology or neurosurgery. We’ve recruited some of our nurses from UW Medicine and Seattle Children’s.
Your radiation therapists have degrees in Radiation Therapy with specialized proton therapy training.
We will ask you to provide us with your local doctor’s contact information so we can share copies of your records and keep your doctor informed of your progress. We will also follow up with your doctor after your therapy is complete.
During your consultation visit to the center, your doctor may decide that additional tests are needed to plan your treatment - tests such as blood work, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Your care team nurse will help coordinate and schedule any tests you need. If you do not have a local health care provider, the center will arrange for your treatments at Fred Hutch or Seattle Children’s.
If you have additional tests done before treatment, your care team nurse will contact you to inform you of the results.
After you’ve had your consultation and any additional tests you may need, you will be scheduled to come to the center for a CT scan. Unlike your previous CTs, which were used to diagnose you, this scan is used to gather images of your tumor from many angles so that your doctor and other experts in proton therapy can “see” it clearly and pinpoint its exact location, shape, and size. The CT images will be used to construct a customized treatment plan that is specifically for you.
To make sure your body stays still and exactly in place, your radiation therapists will use one or more immobilization devices. These include masks to keep your head in position if your tumor is located in your brain or face or upper spine, and vaclock bags to keep your body positioned correctly if your tumor is located in the body.
While we make every effort to schedule your appointments based on your preference, we aren’t always able to for a variety of reasons. For instance, pediatric patients aren’t allowed to eat or drink before treatments so we save early morning appointments for them. We appreciate your understanding and flexibility.
You will begin your proton therapy after your customized treatment plan is complete. This is a complicated process that may take up to two weeks (usually less). A member of your care team will contact you to schedule your first treatment session. Your schedule will depend on which treatment room is right for you. We will work with you to select a treatment time that works for your schedule. At the end of each week, you will be given a treatment schedule for the following week.
Yes. We can put you in contact with a number of proton patients who are happy to share their experience with you. Please call our Patient Services Team at 1-844-874-6679 and let them know of your interest, and they will make sure you are connected to the support you need.
If you would like to share your experiences and support others who are considering proton therapy, please contact a member of our Patient Services Team at 1-844-874-6679.
As the only proton therapy center in the northwest, we often treat patients traveling for treatment. We have a concierge who can assist with accommodations, transportations and any special needs. We have also compiled a list of recommended accommodations and information about visiting Seattle.