What to know about lung cancer and proton therapy

11:40 AM, Nov 08, 2018

In 2018, it is estimated that about 154,050 Americans will die from lung cancer, maintaining lung cancer's place as the leading cancer killer for women and men in the United States, according to the American Lung Association. It surpassed breast cancer as the leading killer of women in 1987.

The high mortality rate for lung cancer is attributed to the low number of cases that are detected at an early stage. When it is detected in stage 1, or before cancer has spread to other organs, the five-year survival rate is 56 percent. "However, only 16 percent of lung cancer cases are diagnosed at an early stage," the ALA says.

Survival rates for people with stage 2 cancer range from 53 to 60 percent. Stage 3 survival rates are 13 percent to 36 percent. When lung cancer spreads, as in stage 4 lung cancer, the five-year survival rate is 10 percent or less. These statistics show the necessity of quick diagnosis and treatment when it comes to lung cancer.

Radiation therapy destroys and shrinks cancer cells

Radiation is a traditional treatment for lung cancer sometimes used to destroy cancer cells concurrently with or after a course of chemotherapy. It may also be used as a palliative treatment to shrink tumors that cause bleeding, pain, a cough, difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath.

While radiation therapy is a powerful weapon against cancer, it can lead to side effects in the short and long term, especially when directed at vital organs such as the brain or heart. There is a slightly higher risk of cancer relapse from radiation exposure as well as damage to skin and organs near the tumor site.




Proton therapy allows for precise targeting

New improvements to radiation therapy have led to more effective and better-targeted treatments, including proton therapy, which may be used in conjunction with or instead of other radiation treatments.

"Proton therapy, with pencil beam scanning technique, delivers a single, narrow beam to the tumor site," according to Dr. Craig Stevens, the Chair of Radiation Oncology at Beaumont Health. "Intensity modulated proton therapy allows for the physician to precisely target the tumor and deliver powerful radiation doses with optimal accuracy."

A team of specialists uses the proton beam to scan a tumor layer by layer and spot by spot with a beam diameter of 4 millimeters. "This technique uses a magnetic field to steer the position of the small proton beam and uses an energy layer selection system to choose the precise depth of the tumor," according to Beaumont.

In treating lung cancers, there is a special concern for side effects to the heart and esophagus, so the precision of proton therapy results in "minimal damage to healthy tissue and critical structures," Dr. Stevens says.

A limited number of facilities offer proton therapy in the United States. According to the National Association for Proton Therapy, there are just 28 Proton centers now in operation.

For more information on proton therapy or to schedule an appointment with a proton therapy specialist, contact the Beaumont Proton Therapy Center, the only proton therapy center in Michigan, today.

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