Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer

The first patient treated at MD Anderson with proton therapy had prostate cancer and started treatment in 2006. Since then we have treated nearly 2,100 men who have prostate cancer with proton therapy.

About Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the U.S. but there is good news. If detected early, prostate cancer has a 5-year survival rate of nearly 99%.

Prostate cancer occurs when cells in the prostate (a gland in the male reproductive system found below the bladder in front of the rectum) grow and multiply uncontrollably, damaging surrounding tissue and interfering with the normal function of the prostate. The cancer cells can then spread to other parts of the body.

While surgery and radiation therapy may have similar outcomes for early-stage prostate cancer, radiation therapy is the primary option for locally advanced prostate cancer and can also be used for localized prostate cancer. For larger or more aggressive tumors, radiation therapy may be used in combination with hormone therapy. At MD Anderson, patients have the option to choose a newer and more precise form of radiation therapy called proton therapy.

Advanced, Targeted Treatment for Prostate Cancer

Only available in thirteen centers in the nation, proton therapy is a powerful treatment for prostate cancer that precisely targets even the most difficult to treat and reach tumors. Proton therapy allows higher doses of radiation to be delivered to the prostate with fewer side effects. Unlike treatment with conventional X-ray therapy (which may require 8 beam angles), treatment with proton therapy can be achieved using just two beams (one right-sided and one left-sided beam).

Benefits of Proton Therapy for Prostate Cancer

There are many benefits of proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center including:

  • Precise, accurate delivery of even high radiation doses to kill cancerous cells in the prostate
  • Minimal impact to surrounding, healthy tissues and vital organs, such as the bladder and rectum
  • Less invasive – treatment is painless and requires no downtime
  • Provided in a comfortable, outpatient setting with free parking

Pencil Beam Scanning Proton Therapy

Patients who come to MD Anderson's Proton Therapy Center may be treated with pencil beam scanning proton therapy, also called spot-scanning, which is an even more advanced type of proton therapy. Pencil beam proton therapy delivers a single, narrow proton beam (which may be less than a millimeter in diameter) that is magnetically swept across

the tumor, depositing the radiation dose like a painter’s brush strokes, without the need to construct beam shaping devices.

Using rapidly fired pulses, the pencil beam hits each planned spot within the tumor with the prescribed amount of radiation, starting at the deepest layer and working in succession, layer by layer, until the whole tumor is covered. Typical tumors require between 1,000 to 2,000 separate spots arranged in approximately 20 to 30 layers for a single pencil beam treatment. Though highly effective, pencil beam proton therapy treatment takes only a few minutes to deliver.

Pencil beam scanning proton therapy:

  • Uses a proton beam which may be less than a millimeter wide to target prostate cancer with even greater precision
  • “Paints” the tumor with proton radiation, allowing even more accurate treatment of tumors that are oddly shaped or that have varying depth
  • Can be directed to a prescribed depth in tissue in the prostate, which minimizes dose to healthy surrounding tissues, such as the bladder and rectum
  • Optimizes the ability to treat a patient’s prostate tumor without compromising quality of life – during and after treatment
  • Results in quicker treatment times because no apertures or shaping devices are needed

The Proton Therapy Center pioneered pencil beam proton therapy treatment and currently is the only center in the United States and one of only three clinical centers in the world using this technology to treat patients. Talk to your radiation doctor to see if this is the right type of proton therapy for you.

What to Expect During Proton Treatment

With proton therapy for prostate cancer, treatments typically take only 15 to 20 minutes each day and are delivered five days a week for approximately eight weeks. There is little to no recovery time after treatment, and the risk of immediate post-treatment impotency is minimized, especially in those with good sexual function prior to treatment. Most patients tolerate the treatments extremely well and are able to continue to work, exercise and remain sexually activity during their treatment course and immediately after treatment is complete.

For more on what to expect watch this video of former Proton Therapy Center Patient Joe DePasqual. He discusses why he chose proton therapy, his favorite thing about MD Anderson, being proactive in his treatment process, and how he chose to spend his free time in Houston.

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