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Proton Therapy - Accelerating Protons to Save Lives

Dr. Cynthia Keppel - Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute

October 25, 2011

In 1946, physicist Robert Wilson first suggested that protons could be used as a form of radiation therapy in the treatment of cancer because of the sharp drop-off that occurs on the distal edge of the radiation dose. Research soon confirmed that high-energy protons were particularly suitable for treating tumors near critical structures, such as the heart and spinal column. The precision with which protons can be delivered means that more radiation can be deposited into the tumor while the surrounding healthy tissue receives substantially less or, in some cases, no radiation. Since these times, particle accelerators have continuously been used in cancer therapy and today new facilities specifically designed for proton therapy are being built in many countries. Proton therapy has been hailed as a revolutionary cancer treatment, with higher cure rates and fewer side effects than traditional X-ray photon radiation therapy. Proton therapy is the modality of choice for treating certain small tumors of the eye, head or neck. Because it exposes less of the tissue surrounding a tumor to the dosage, proton therapy lowers the risk of secondary cancers later in life - especially important for young children. To date, over 80,000 patients worldwide have been treated with protons. Currently, there are nine proton radiation therapy facilities operating in the United States, one at the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute. An overview of the treatment technology and this new center will be presented.

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