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The Role of Proton Therapy in Palliative Medicine


Palliative medicine is a form of specialized care that aims to improve the quality of life for those with a serious illness. For cancer patients, palliative medicine focuses on relieving symptoms or side effects experienced throughout treatment.

Many patients initially associate palliative medicine with hospice or end of life care; however, palliative medicine is for anyone who would benefit from focused symptom management – no matter the diagnosis or stage.

Proton therapy can be used as a form of palliative medicine. This highly-targeted form of treatment is non-invasive and effective in killing cancerous tumors throughout the body. Additionally, proton therapy can provide pain relief with lower radiation toxicity, while allowing patients to maintain their routine quality of life during and after treatment sessions.

Benefits of Proton Therapy in Palliative Medicine

Depending on the patient and their specific cancer type, the benefits of proton therapy as a form of palliative medicine come from its precision, minimal radiation exposure, and being an overall minimal side-effect option in a patient’s multidisciplinary treatment plan.

This form of treatment may also reduce or alleviate the severity of potential acute and long-term side effects such as low blood counts, hair loss, fatigue, nausea, headaches, and skin changes. Patients may receive proton therapy alone or jointly with chemotherapy and other treatments.

Because proton therapy precisely targets tumors, it helps to lower the risk of toxicity or damage to healthy organs and tissues in surrounding areas of the body. According to Cancer.Net, the patient information website managed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), this form of treatment can provide patients up to 60 percent less radiation exposure while avoiding areas previously treated or at higher risk of recurrence.

Common Cancers Palliatively Treated with Proton Therapy

Proton therapy may be beneficial for cancer types that have a higher rate of recurrence such as head and neck, breast, and lung cancers, as well as various complex cancers that may exhibit more physical and neurological sensitivity to radiation treatment located in the central nervous, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, and gynecologic systems.

Patients and their loved ones are encouraged to consult with their physician to determine if proton therapy is an option in their treatment plan based on their individual cancer type.