The Facts About Proton Technology

Proton Therapy – How It Works

Turning the complex process of proton therapy into a clear, straightforward mission.

Standard (x-ray) radiation treatment – if given in high doses – can control and manage many cancers, but damage healthy tissue in the process. That’s why many x-ray treatments deliver a less-than-desired dose to the targeted location.

Proton therapy is different. By honing in precisely on the cancer, protons drive a powerful dose of radiation directly to the source, avoiding unwanted radiation exposure and reducing damage to healthy tissue and vital organs. It’s what makes APT’s proton therapy facilities the solid foundation for superior cancer treatment.

It all starts at the center of an atom – the nucleus. Orbiting the nucleus are negatively charged electrons. And when positively charged protons pass near orbiting electrons, the electrons are pulled from their orbit. This is called ionization. It’s the crucial event that changes the characteristics of an atom and forms the basis for radiation therapy.

During ionization, radiation damages molecules within the cells, especially the DNA or genetic material. And while both normal and cancerous cells go through a process of division and repair, a cancer cell's ability to repair molecular injury is frequently inferior. After radiation, more cancer cells sustain permanent damage and subsequent cell death than those in the normal cell population. That means that radiation therapy can selectively destroy the bad cells growing among good cells.

Both standard x-ray therapy and proton beams work on the principle of selective cell destruction. But the major advantage of proton treatment over conventional radiation is the energy distribution of protons in the tissue. 

To pinpoint a location, physicians use a three-dimensional pattern from each beam to gain greater control and precision and, therefore, superior management over treatment.

Selective cell destruction: protons vs. standard radiation

In conventional x-ray treatment, the energy from a single conventional x-ray beam is directed to normal tissues near the body's surface, while harmful energy is deposited beyond the cancer site. This uneconomical pattern of energy placement can result in damage to healthy tissues, preventing physicians from using a sufficient dose of radiation to control the cancer.

Protons, on the other hand, are energized to measurable, depth-specific velocities. As the protons move through the body toward physician-aimed locations, they slow down, causing increased interaction with orbiting electrons.

Maximum interaction with electrons occurs as the protons approach their targeted stopping point. That’s when maximum energy is released within cancer area, while the surrounding healthy cells receive significantly less injury. 

The science behind proton therapy can provide insight for patients and physicians into why APT, and the superior proton treatment facilities they develop, is the clear choice for cancer treatment. 

Explore the links below for video explanations and downloadable resources on the subject of proton therapy. 

Proton Therapy Facts

Proton Therapy Video

Proton Therapy Links