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Proton Therapy for Head and Neck Cancers

Publication: Texas Monthly

Head and neck cancers comprise about 4% of U.S. cancer cases and occur when cancerous cells develop in the head and neck area, including the mouth, throat, and surrounding areas. Proton therapy may be an ideal option for patients with head and neck cancers as the targeted, pencil-thin beam precisely targets the tumor and reduces the radiation exposure to the salivary glands, swallowing muscles, nerves, spinal cord, brain, eyes, and other important healthy tissues. 

During treatment, a narrow proton beam is guided to focus the highest energy of the beam at the location of the tumor to destroy cancer cells while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue. While the proton beam is delivered, it can conform to the shape, size, and depth of tumors – limiting excess radiation near surrounding areas of the body.   

“Proton beams can be targeted so that the highest energy of the beam is deposited at the tumor site to eliminate cancer cells,” said Andrew Lee, M.D., MPH, radiation oncologist and medical director, Texas Center for Proton Therapy. “Less radiation is delivered as the proton beam enters the body and little to no radiation is delivered after it hits the tumor, reducing damage to surrounding healthy tissue as well as potential side effects.” 

This is particularly important in those patients that have undergone surgery and/or require chemotherapy with radiation therapy.  While combining therapies can improve cure rates, it can also be more toxic unless advanced forms of radiation therapy such as intensity modulated proton therapy (IMPT) are utilized. 

For those with head and neck cancer, ideal candidates for proton therapy include patients who have a new diagnosis or have recurrence after prior therapy. Additionally, proton therapy can help those patients who have advanced head and neck cancers (non-surgical candidates), larynx cancers, nasopharynx cancers, oropharynx cancers, recurrent cancers, salivary tumors, sinus cancers, skin cancers, skull base tumors, and thyroid cancers.  

“Proton Therapy has fewer side effects and can increase the quality of life for patients during and after treatment,” said Jared Sturgeon, M.D., Ph.D., radiation oncologist, Texas Center for Proton Therapy. “As part of a multidisciplinary treatment regimen, proton therapy has been shown in studies to increase a patient’s ability to receive other concurrent or sequential therapies, such as chemotherapy and/or surgery.”  

Compared with traditional treatment options, patients with head and neck cancer who receive proton therapy are significantly less likely to need a feeding tube and experience less weight loss. 

For more information visit WhatIsProtonTherapy.com.

About Texas Center for Proton Therapy

Texas Center for Proton Therapy is the North Texas region’s first proton therapy center. The center features latest-generation technology, including pencil-beam scanning and image-guided proton therapy, providing precise radiation treatment with the opportunity to reduce side effects. Texas Oncology and The US Oncology Network, supported by McKesson Specialty Health, and Baylor Health Enterprises, an affiliate of Baylor Health Care System, collaborated to develop a proton therapy facility in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Opened in 2015, the facility provides advanced cancer treatment through Texas Oncology, an independent oncology practice and pioneer of community-based cancer care. For more information, visit www.TexasCenterforProtonTherapy.com or call 469-513-5500.