Is Proton Beam Therapy Effective For Treating Prostate Cancer?

If you've been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you may have heard about one of the latest methods to treat it – proton beam therapy (PBT). Because of its relative newness as a way to treat prostate tumors, you probably have questions about it.

Here's what you need to know:

What is it?

PBT is a type of radiation treatment that uses energized protons, which are hydrogen atoms whose electrons have been removed. They're directed to the tumor in a focused ray.

What are the possible advantages?

Traditional radiation therapy is often used to treat prostate cancer. This uses radioactive energy rays that pass through healthy cells, tissues, and organs before they reach the tumor. They can cause collateral damage to these parts of your body before they reach their target – the cancerous tumor.

In contrast, PBT is believed to have little negative effect on healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Treatment causes no pain and is relatively short, taking about 20 minutes a day, five days a week for about eight weeks. Patients often have little or no resulting downtime.

Has it been used before?

PBT has been used for years to treat cancers in areas such as the spine and brain, where the possibility of collateral damage is high. It's also been used in children in an attempt to reduce the side effects and possible damage to their still-developing bodies that may occur with standard radiation treatment.

What does it cost?

It costs about double what traditional radiation therapy does. Some major insurance companies won't cover it as a treatment for localized prostate cancer.

Are they any concerns about PBT?

Some experts also think that it's no more effective than traditional treatment. So far, studies have shown no difference between PBT and traditional radiation therapy in terms of effectiveness, according to The Journal of the American Medical Association. The article goes on to state that more studies and clinical trials are ongoing. For example, in 2012, Massachusetts General Hospital launched a five-year study to determine if PBT has greater benefits.

Depending on where you live, you may have to travel to reach a center that offers PBT. The technology is expensive to build and maintain, so it's not as readily available.

Ultimately, every patient's situation is unique. Talk to your doctor about what treatment he or she thinks will be most effective against your prostate cancer. Discuss any possible risks to surrounding tissues and organs, as well as any side effects. Also keep abreast of information online and through your doctor about the effectiveness of PBT as more information and studies are published.

Contact a center like Unity Urology PC if you have more questions about the methods used to treat prostate cancer.