Treatments

Proton therapy for head and neck cancers

Proton therapy is a next-generation treatment option that precisely delivers radiation to the size, shape and depth of your individual tumor. This approach allows your doctor to treat the tumor while helping keep the surrounding brain, eye, and spinal tissue healthy.

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Every tumor of the head and neck presents its own unique set of treatment challenges, requiring a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation that’s right for you. When it comes to radiation for your tumor, proton therapy provides a safer option that reduces the likelihood of side effects such as blindness, hearing loss, difficulty swallowing and dry mouth.

With standard X-ray therapy, radiation is at its highest as it enters the body, and delivers an exit dose as it continues on past the tumor. With proton therapy, treatment is delivered precisely to the tumor and has no exit dose.

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. 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.

Proton therapy takes advantage of a unique characteristic of protons—they deliver their maximum dose of radiation, known as the Bragg Peak, right before they come to a stop. That’s how the damage is concentrated on the cancer, protecting healthy tissue.

Bragg Peak Diagram - Proton Therapy

More precision means less damage to healthy tissue in the brain, neck, eyes, sinuses, vocal chords and salivary glands, potentially offering a faster recovery, and fewer short- and long-term side effects.

If you’ve been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, the radiation oncology specialists at our proton therapy facility are available to give you a second opinion and determine if proton therapy would be right for you.

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.

Head and neck cancer tract tumors most appropriate for proton therapy

  • Base of Skull tumors (including, but not limited to, anterior, middle, and posterior cranial fossa, sphenoid and temporal bone-related tumors)
  • Sino – Nasal cancers (paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity)
  • Cancers located near the orbits/eyes
  • Nasopharynx cancers
  • Small/early oropharyngeal cancers (tonsils, tongue base)
  • Select salivary gland tumors (parotid, sub-mandibular and minor salivary glands of the upper aero-digestive tract) 
  • Complex skin cancers involving cranial nerves and/or lymph nodes of the neck (with a lateralized primary
  • Select patients who have received previous radiation
  • Unknown primary cancers (after a thorough surgical work up)

Pencil Beam Scanning (PBS)

Some patients may benefit from innovative pencil beam scanning (PBS). PBS "paints" the tumor with a very thin, very precise beam of protons that's accurate within millimeters, reducing even further the amount of radiation to healthy tissue. PBS sends rapid pulses of protons to each planned spot within the tumor until the entire cancer is treated.

Proton therapy facts

  • Proton therapy can potentially reduce damage to the oral cavity, eyes, optic nerves, salivary glands and other organs, minimizing the likelihood of side effects like vision, hearing and smell loss.
  • The number of patients experiencing severe weight loss or needing a feeding tube was reduced by almost 50% in patients receiving proton therapy.
  • Proton therapy is often the only radiation treatment available if you’ve already received radiation from a previous cancer occurrence.
  • Treatments are safe, noninvasive and painless for most patients, helping speed recovery and maintain lifestyle.
  • As of 2022, more than 200,000 people worldwide have received proton therapy at centers in Europe, Asia and the United States.
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.