Proton Therapy Cancer Treatment | MedStar Health

MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is proud to be the first and most experienced facility in the Washington, D.C. region to offer proton therapy with HYPERSCAN. Our team of physicians at MedStar Georgetown is made up of the D.C. area’s leading experts, who have specialized knowledge in numerous cancer types and are at the forefront of the latest advances in treatment.

In addition, through our research engine, Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only NCI-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Washington, D.C. area, we offer patients access to clinical trials and breakthrough cancer treatments.

What is proton therapy?

Also known as proton beam therapy, proton therapy is type of radiation treatment that is highly targeted and can treat tumors anywhere in the body in both adults and children. It's similar to other forms of radiation, targeting cancerous cells without the need for surgical incisions.

Many treatment centers offer an older model of therapy called double scattered protons. However, the most recent refinement to this therapy is called pencil beam scanning (PBS), which allows the delivery of intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT). PBS treats a single layer of a tumor at a time, 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.

Advantages of proton therapy for cancer

Traditional radiation therapy uses a special kind of high-energy beam aimed at the cancer to damage the cells and stop them from multiplying. However, this high-energy beam impacts not only tumor cells but also damages other healthy cells in its path. On the other hand, proton beam therapy is better able to precisely target the tumor's exact location, leaving surrounding healthy cells unharmed. In the long run, this can reduce the chances of developing secondary cancers due to radiation.


  • Targets and destroys cancer cells 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 tissue 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

Watch: Learn how proton therapy compares to traditional radiation.

What types of cancer can proton therapy treat?

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

  • Brain tumors
    • Acoustic neuromas
    • Gliomas/astrocytomas
    • Meningiomas
    • Skull base tumors
    • Other brain tumors
  • Breast cancer
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers
    • Esophageal cancer
    • Liver cancer
    • Pancreatic cancer
    • Rectal cancer
    • Anal cancer
  • Gynecologic cancers
    • Cervical cancer
    • Endometrial cancer
    • Vulvar cancer
  • Head and neck tumors
    • Pharynx cancer (including cancers of the tonsils, base of tongue, hypopharynx, and nasopharynx)
    • Paranasal sinus cancer
    • Chordoma and chondrosarcoma
    • Paraganglioma
  • Lung/chest cancers
    • Lung cancer
    • Mesothelioma
    • Thymoma
  • Lymphoma
  • Pediatric tumors
  • Prostate cancer
  • Recurrent tumors
  • Sarcoma
    • Extremity sarcoma
    • Retroperitoneal sarcoma

How HYPERSCAN technology works

At MedStar Health, we treat all patients with the HYPERSCAN proton therapy system, the most advanced and precise form of PBS available. In addition, This system is the fastest form of PBS, reducing the duration of each treatment session and improving both clinical accuracy and patient comfort.

We are the first in the world to introduce proton beam therapy with HYPERSCAN technology and are the most experienced facility in the Washington D.C., metropolitan area to offer proton therapy, greatly enhancing the care and convenience of patients throughout the region.

The HYPERSCAN system uses a pencil beam proton scanner, which deposits protons in the tumor spot-by-spot, layer-by-layer. First, 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 us to treat patients with less radiation exposure to normal tissues than other systems.

A patient undergoes treatment in the Proton Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital is equipped with state-of-the-art equipment to shrink and eliminate tumors.

Image-guided and adaptive proton therapy

We offer image-guided proton therapy (IGPT) using high-resolution imaging systems to accurately position a patient for radiation delivery. And unlike other proton units, we provide adaptive therapy with a diagnostic-quality CT scanner in the treatment room that can modify treatment in response to changes in the patient's anatomy, such as when the tumor shrinks during the treatment course.

What to expect

At MedStar Health, our doctors are dedicated to providing a seamless experience tailored to meet each patient's individual needs.

The first step is determining whether it is the best treatment for your unique situation and health condition. During an initial consultation, a specialized radiation oncologist will decide whether or not you are a good candidate by reviewing your medical history and discussing your personal needs with you.

Proton therapy is performed in two stages:

  • Treatment Preparation (Simulation Session):Before actual treatments, our physicians will generate a radiation plan specific to you and your treatment needs, including positioning and identifying 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 develop the best treatment plan to meet your needs, including dosage and beam configuration.
  • 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 on treatment. Treatment may cause significantly fewer side effects than other radiation therapies, allowing most patients to continue their everyday routine during treatment sessions and return to work and other regular activities following treatment with minimal disruption.

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Frequently asked questions

  • What is proton therapy?

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

  • What does proton therapy cost?

    Once your doctor determines that you are a good candidate for proton therapy, our team will contact your insurance provider to determine if they will cover your treatment. 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 we prioritize keeping you well-informed before beginning your treatment.

  • Does insurance cover proton therapy?

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

    If you are a candidate, we will contact your insurance to determine if it is a covered benefit for you. In addition, our associates help our patients obtain authorization and assist in the appeal process, if necessary.

    We anticipate that insurance plans will cover most patients who need proton therapy. We will keep you informed as we pursue the process.

  • Is proton therapy safe for children?

    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. Several studies suggest that this therapy effectively eliminates cancerous cells while keeping healthy surrounding cells unharmed. As a result, the chances of suffering from a secondary radiation-induced cancer later in life is significantly reduced.
    • It 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.
    • Everyday activities are less impacted during therapy treatments than with other forms of radiation treatment. During traditional radiation treatment, a child's normal tissue is usually exposed to higher radiation levels, 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 their everyday life with less disruption during the treatment process.

For referring physicians

Referring a patient to MedStar Georgetown University Hospital

MedStar Georgetown invites referring physicians and specialists to entrust their patients' care to our experienced radiation medicine team. We are dedicated to putting our patients first and treating each patient individually and holistically. In addition, our doctors are committed to continuity of care and keeping our referring physicians informed and involved throughout the treatment and follow-up process.

Referring a patient to MedStar Georgetown for proton therapy can offer the following benefits:

  • Access to the most precise proton therapy technology currently available
  • Home to an experienced, multi-disciplinary and compassionate team of providers
  • A track record or success with state-of-the-art treatments

To refer a patient please contact us by phone or email using the below information.

Referring physician contact: Cheryl Savage, Administrator, Radiation Medicine Department of MedStar Georgetown

Phone: 202-444-4639