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How Proton Therapy Is Fighting Prostate Cancer

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A cancer diagnosis is a frightening thing to face. Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in American men after skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society, and over a man’s lifetime, he has a 1 in 7 risk of developing it. The latest prostate cancer statistics from the American Cancer Society indicate that in 2017 more than 26,000 people will die from prostate cancer and over 161,000 new prostate cancer diagnoses will be made. There is hope, though, in the form of a prostate cancer treatment that is rapidly gaining ground.

Proton therapy is a form of prostate cancer treatment that does not involve surgery, has minimal side effects and is not invasive. While it is not a complete prostate cancer cure, the result of studies conducted on those who have had proton therapy for cancer are very promising. A study which tracked 643 prostate cancer sufferers over a five-year period found that the percentage of participants who were disease free and thriving five years after proton treatment was 89%.

Inside Proton Cancer Treatment
So how does it work? In essence, proton therapy is a radiation treatment for cancer, but is different from conventional radiation therapy in that it specifically targets the tumor, minimizing the side effects and focusing the treatment in the cancer itself. It is being used to tackle a range of other cancers beyond prostate cancer, such as breast cancer where it has been found to eliminate radiation exposure to the heart and decrease the amount of radiation to the lungs by as much as half. When healthy tissue is exposed to radiation it can be damaged. Traditional radiation treatment does not localize the radiation to the tumor in the way that proton therapy does and can result in damage to healthy tissue.

Proton therapy, like other forms of radiation, works by damaging the DNA in the cells. This then impedes or completely prevents the cells from dividing or multiplying. Although all cells, including cancer cells, use enzymes to attempt to repair and rebuild damaged parts of the DNA, cancer cells are usually not as effective in doing so. This means that when radiation damages the cancer cell’s DNA, it can result in cell death and the elimination of targeted cancer cells in the body. Each session lasts up to 45 minutes, but the actual radiation exposure takes just a few minutes.

Minimizing Side Effects
The prostate cancer cure rate using proton therapy is thus very high. A similar study found that the percentage of men with low-, intermediate-, and high-risk prostate cancer that were cancer-free five years after treatment were 99%, 94% and 74% respectively. These are impressive prostate cancer cure rates. Significantly the risk of side effects is limited with proton therapy.

For prostate cancer sufferers one of the most dreaded and difficult side effects is sexual dysfunction. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, as much as half of all men who have conventional external radiation treatment will experience impotence or other sexual dysfunction. With proton therapy, however, erectile dysfunction is less of a concern with as much as 94% of men indicating that they remained sexually active after treatment.

These results are ensuring that the use of proton therapy is increasing with more and more treatment centers being built. There are expected to be 27 proton cancer treatment centers in America by the end of 2017, according to “US Proton Therapy Outlook 2017” report by RNCOS. These proton treatment centers offer a vital lifeline to those diagnosed and the promise of a targeted treatment with little to no side effects and greater success. With so many new centers opening in the United States, the prostate cancer cure rate can only improve.

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