Prostate cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the prostate gland, which is near the male urethra, grow uncontrolled. If left untreated, prostate cancer may spread to other parts of the body such as the bladder, in a process known as metastasis. Treatment for prostate cancer depends on factors such as the staging. Only you and your doctor can determine which treatment is right for you. A form of advanced radiation therapy is available that offers benefits over conventional radiation treatments. It's more precise and doesn't have a lot of the side effects that come along with traditional radiation. If you're considering proton therapy to treat your prostate cancer, here's what you need to know.
What it Is
Proton therapy is a distinct type of radiation that delivers precise positively-charged particles called protons. At high energy, protons destroy cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy tissue. It is a non-invasive treatment that is virtually painless and is done as an outpatient procedure. Your doctor will direct the protons to the target area where the radiation is delivered at a specified speed to destroy the tumor. Unlike traditional radiation therapy, in proton therapy, the radiation does not go beyond the tumor. You may receive a single large dose treatment, or you may return for up to five treatments. The number of treatments you will need depends on the staging of the tumor. You can expect treatment to last 15 to 30 minutes.
Proton therapy is associated with a number of advantages over conventional radiation treatments. Firstly, it limits damage to surrounding tissue, which reduces the side effects. There is a reduced risk of incontinence as seen in conventional therapy where radiation may reach the bladder. Erectile dysfunction is one of the most common side effects of conventional radiation, whereas with proton therapy this risk is reduced because it is more precise. In fact, 94 percent of men report being able to maintain their normal sexual activity following proton therapy, according to Loma Linda University Cancer Center.
While the reduced side effects are beneficial, most patients want to know whether a specific therapy is effective at treating their cancer. According to the University of Florida Health Proton Therapy Institute, proton therapy is as effective as conventional radiation, but with fewer side effects. It was also found that proton therapy is associated with extremely low rates of prostate cancer recurrence, compared to conventional therapy.