What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment that is highly targeted and can treat tumors anywhere in the body in both adults and children. MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is proud to introduce proton therapy with HYERSCAN to its suite of comprehensive treatments. The new addition makes the Hospital the first and only proton therapy site in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, greatly enhancing the care and convenience of patients throughout the region.

Proton Therapy—One of the most advanced cancer-fighting treatments available

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Pencil Beam Scanning (PBS) proton therapy / Intensity-Modulated Proton Therapy (IMPT)

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While many proton centers offer treatment with an older form of proton therapy called double scattered protons, the most recent refinement to this therapy is called pencil beam scanning (PBS), allowing the delivery of intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT). PBS is designed to treat a single layer of a tumor at a time, in effect painting the tumor with radiation spot-by-spot, and slice by slice. Many centers that offer PBS still use the older form of proton technology to treat patients. At MedStar Health, all patients are treated with HYPERSCAN™, an advanced form of PBS.

What are the benefits of proton therapy?

Proton therapy is similar to other forms of radiation in application, targeting cancerous cells without the need for surgical incisions. Traditional radiation therapy uses a special kind of high-energy beam, which is aimed at the cancer to damage the cells and stop them from multiplying. However, this high-energy beam impacts not only tumor cells, but it also damages other healthy cells that are in its path. On the other hand, proton therapy is better able to precisely target the exact location of the tumor, leaving surrounding healthy cells unharmed. In the long run, this can reduce the chances of developing secondary cancers due to radiation.

 

HYPERSCAN proton therapy technology for cancer treatment

The MEVION S250i™ with HYPERSCAN proton therapy system is the most advanced proton cancer treatment technology currently available. MedStar Health is the first proton therapy center to access this level of advanced cancer treatment technology. With focused targeting of PBS, proton therapy with HYPERSCAN is the most precise PBS system available. The HYPERSCAN system is the fastest form of PBS, reducing the duration of each treatment session and improving both clinical accuracy and patient comfort.

How HYPERSCAN technology works

The HYPERSCAN system uses a pencil beam proton scanner, which deposits protons in the tumor spot-by-spot, layer-by-layer. The planning system creates a 3-dimensional representation of the tumor and relays the information to the device. Then, the HYPERSCAN machine precisely targets the exact location of the tumor, delivering radiation one layer at a time. The accuracy of this state-of-the-art proton treatment system allows patients to be treated for cancer with less radiation exposure to normal tissues than other systems.

Image-guided and adaptive proton therapy

A patient receiving proton therapy with HYPERSCAN, a highly advanced form of radiation therapy.

A patient receiving proton therapy with HYPERSCAN, a highly advanced form of radiation therapy.

MedStar Health is also able to deploy therapy with the most advanced system available for the foreseeable future; we will enable the best positioning for patients to receive their treatments. We offer image-guided proton therapy (IGPT), using high-resolution imaging systems to accurately position a patient for radiation delivery.

Unlike other proton units, we offer adaptive proton therapy, with a diagnostic-quality CT scanner in the treatment room that can be used to modify treatment in response to changes in the patient’s anatomy, such as when the tumor shrinks during the treatment course.

Proton therapy with HYPERSCAN is a highly advanced form of radiation therapy (radiotherapy) that has the power to shrink and eliminate cancer by precisely focusing protons onto the target tumor. The state-of-the-art therapy, which is available at MedStar Health, improves the outcomes of patients undergoing radiation therapy. Proton therapy involves significantly less radiation exposure to normal tissues and can result in fewer side effects compared to traditional radiation therapy.

Proton therapy takes advantage of the physical properties of the proton particles, which can be controlled better than conventional radiation. This makes this therapy more accurate and precise, destroying tumors without causing damage to the surrounding healthy cells. Proton therapy can avoid the need for certain surgeries and provides patients with an alternative treatment option for cancers of all types as well as recurrent cancers.

What conditions can be treated by proton therapy?

Proton radiation therapy can be used to treat a wide range of cancers and can treat tumors anywhere in the body.

Below are some of the most common conditions treated with this therapy:

 

Benefits of proton therapy

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Proton therapy with HYPERSCAN™ is the next generation of radiation therapy, providing patients with a wide range of benefits:

  • Targets and destroys tumors with precise accuracy
  • Applies less radiation dose than other types of radiation therapy due to its ability to shape to the exact size and shape of the tumor
  • Causes less damage to surrounding healthy tissues by improved accuracy
  • Results in virtually no exit dose (radiation exposure that continues through the body beyond the tumor)
  • Lowers the risk of radiation-induced secondary cancers
  • Results in fewer side effects and better quality of life following treatment
  • Highly customizable treatment that can be tailored to each patient's unique needs

Benefits of proton therapy for children with HYPERSCAN

Proton therapy is generally accepted as part of the standard of care treatment for many pediatric cancers. In addition to providing the most advanced form of radiation therapy for adults, this type of therapy is beneficial for children, in particular, for several reasons.

  • Children are less likely to develop a secondary cancer when treated with proton therapy. There are several studies that suggest that this therapy is more effective at eliminating cancerous cells while keeping healthy surrounding cells unharmed. This means that the chances of suffering from a secondary radiation-induced cancer later in life may be significantly reduced when using proton therapy
  • Proton therapy lowers a child’s exposure to radiation. Because this therapy with pencil beam scanning (PBS) can be more tightly controlled than conventional radiation therapy, it avoids unnecessary radiation exposure, especially to healthy tissues surrounding the treatment area. This results in less growth impairment
  • Normal activities are less impacted during proton therapy treatments than with other forms of radiation treatment. During traditional radiation treatment, a child is usually exposed to higher levels of radiation to normal tissue, which can cause more side effects. This is especially concerning when treating a child, who may have to stay home from school or other activities during treatment. Proton therapy increases the likelihood that a child can continue his or her everyday life with less disruption during the treatment process
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What to expect

At MedStar Health, our doctors are dedicated to providing a seamless experience that is tailored to meet each patient’s individual needs. MedStar Health is home to leaders in proton and other forms of radiation therapy, who will guide you through every step of your treatment process and offer you personalized care and support throughout your recovery.

Proton therapy consultation

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MedStar Health is home to leaders in proton and other forms of radiation therapy, who will guide you through every step of your treatment process and offer you personalized care and support throughout your recovery.

The first step of proton therapy is determining whether it is the best treatment for your unique situation and health condition. During an initial consultation, a specialized radiation oncologist will determine whether you are a good candidate for proton therapy by reviewing your medical history and discussing your personal needs with you.

Proton Therapy Cost

Once your doctor determines that you are a good candidate for proton therapy, the next step involves our Radiation Medicine Department team contacting your insurance provider to determine whether your treatment will be covered. We understand that medical bills and questions about insurance coverage can be a significant source of concern and stress for patients and their families, so it is a priority for us to keep you well-informed prior to beginning your treatment.

Does insurance cover proton therapy?

Medicare is covering proton therapy. Proton therapy is a standard of care for pediatric patients so insurance plans will cover most patients under the age of 21 or 19, depending on the plan.

If you are a candidate for the proton therapy, your insurance will be contacted to find out if it is a covered benefit for you.  We have hired associates who will help our patients work through to obtain authorization and assist in the appeal process, if necessary.

We anticipate that insurance plans will cover most patients who need proton therapy, which is just a new way to deliver radiation, a treatment that has been around for decades. We will keep you informed as we pursue the process.

Proton therapy treatment outline

Nurse showing proton therapy treatment papers

Friendly staff members help patients check in at the MedStar Health Proton Therapy Center.

Proton therapy is performed in two stages:

  • Treatment Preparation (Simulation Session): Prior to actual treatments, our physicians will generate a radiation plan that is specific to you and your treatment needs including positioning and identification of your treatment area. Preparing this plan generally involves diagnostic imaging (CT, MRI, and/or PET scanning), which will guide the simulation session of the proton therapy that follows. Your physician will work with the radiation physicist and dosimetrist to come up with the best treatment plan, including dosage and beam configuration, to meet your needs
  • Treatment Sessions: Shortly after the preparation phase, your radiation treatment sessions will begin. Most patients visit their radiation oncologist at least once a week while they are on treatment. During the course of the treatment sessions, most patients can continue their everyday routine, and return to work and other regular activities following treatment. Because proton therapy may cause significantly fewer side effects than other radiation therapies, it is less disruptive to your daily routine

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