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Proton Beam Radiation

Proton beam radiation therapy is a type of radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy uses beams of radiation to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells. Radiation works by damaging the DNA in cancer cells.  

How Proton Beam Radiation Therapy Compares to Conventional Radiation Therapy

Proton beam therapy uses protons as its energy source. Conventional radiation therapy uses X-rays.

In conventional radiation, X-rays go straight through the body. The X-rays can harm healthy tissue before and after reaching the tumor site.

In proton beam radiation therapy, the amount of energy and how deep it goes into the tumor can be tailored to match each tumor’s size and shape. The radiation can stop at the tumor site. That means it doesn’t affect healthy tissue and organs on the other side of the tumor. 

Proton beam radiation therapy allows doctors to aim high doses of radiation at tumors and minimize damage to nearby healthy cells.

When Proton Beam Radiation Therapy Is Used

If available, proton therapy is typically recommended for the treatment of tumors:

  • Very young children
  • Located near critical organs or brain tissue
  • That require very high doses of radiation

Side Effects

Proton beam radiation therapy potentially has fewer short-term and long-term side effects than conventional radiation because it does not harm as much healthy tissue. That is particularly important for children. Their brains and bodies are still growing and developing. Proton therapy could also lessen the damage to reproductive organs.

Cost and Availability

Not every medical center offers proton therapy. The National Association for Proton Therapy has a directory.

Proton therapy is more expensive than conventional radiation. Parents should check with their insurance company about coverage. Pediatric centers have insurance offices and social work departments that can provide assistance.


Reviewed: June 2018