Tumors and cancers are rather common these days, and if we talk about their treatment, particle therapy continues to gain popularity. If you think that you have one of these deadly ailments, your medic might prefer to go for particle therapy. Here is what it is.
Particle therapy is a specialized form of radiation therapy that might have benefits over traditional radiation therapy for some conditions and patients. In essence, it is a kind of external-beam radiation therapy using highly accelerated heavy particles, and its specific types include proton and carbon-ion therapies.
This treatment is effective on tumors near the brain and spine that have not spread to another place in the body. It may be, additionally, useful for young patients as it lessens the risk of damaging healthy, growing tissue and minimizes the long-standing side-effects of radiation therapy, such as new malignancies.
Particle therapy makes use of highly charged particles delivering less radiation on their way to the tumor, delivering most of it to the tumor, and stopping just about completely once they hit the target. This is called Bragg Peak. Consequently, the nearby healthy tissue absorbs little radiation, which reduces the risk of long-term side-effects.
Particle therapy with protons is an excellent tool for a better dose delivery. For approximately 40 years, this was an experimental technique employed only in laboratories that dedicated part of their time to medical uses. In 1991, the first hospital-based PT facility became operational in Loma Linda, California. For the next 15 years, PT was available at a limited number of centers worldwide and used mainly for rare cancers, such as skull base and spine sarcoma and uveal melanoma, although prostate cancer has also been its important application since the beginning.
In the last decade, there has been a rapid growth in new facilities, a quick increase in the number of patients treated, and rise in the number of indications proton therapy is prescribed for, including lung cancer, breast cancer, pediatric cancer, and pancreatic cancer.
The quick adoption of this new approach has been partially due to the heartening results attained by the pioneering institutions and partially to the enhancements in patient positioning and target definition, which have made a higher accuracy of particle therapy more essential. Till date, over 120,000 patients have been treated with this approach globally, as per the IAEA.
Proton therapy might be used as the lone treatment for your condition, or in conjunction with other treatments, such as surgery and chemotherapy. It can also be utilized if the cancer remains or relapses after conventional X-ray radiation.
Proton therapy is widely utilized for cancers of the:
Carbon ions have been used in medical settings since 1994, beginning with the NIRS in Japan. Since then, over 10,000 patients have been treated, and seven more clinical facilities have become operational in Europe, Japan, and China. More facilities are coming into being; however, this radiation approach is still practiced less than the proton approach.
For instance, in Germany, carbon-ion therapy is considered an experimental approach when compared to proton-beam therapy.
Corresponding to this perspective, carbon-ion treatments are done in Germany as part of clinical trials. Some experts are of the opinion that there is a need for more data on the relative radiological effectiveness of carbon ions, because of t possibility of delayed tissue toxicities.
Although carbon-ion therapy is still in the experimental stage in most countries, it has been successfully used for a number of cancers, including:
Before undergoing particle therapy, your doctor guides you through the process, to ensure that the particle beam reaches the exact spot in your body where it is required.
Throughout radiation simulation, medics aim to find a comfortable position for you for the actual treatment. It is imperative to lie still during treatment, so discovering a relaxed position is vital.
For this, the patient needs to be positioned on the treatment table itself. Cushions and restraints are used to ensure the correct position and keep the patient still. Marking is done on the area that is to receive the radiation with a marker or permanent tattoo.
MRI or CT scans are done to determine the body area to be treated and how it is to be reached, drawing a proper path for the beams.
This process is done generally five days for numerous weeks. Though, sometimes, only one or a few treatments are needed. The treatment might take only a few minutes, but 30 to 45 minutes are needed for preparation.
Once you have been prepped, the radiation therapy team will leave the room and go to the monitoring area, from where they will be able to see and hear you.
The therapy is delivered by a gantry directing the beams at exact points on your body. You will be able to hear the machine turn on and do its job; however, you will feel no discomfort.
After the completion of the treatment session, it is possible to resume routine activities, as you won't be radioactive or feel any pain.
The side-effects of this procedure generally develop over time. There may be a few side-effects at first, but after repetitive treatments, there might be fatigue or skin redness in the area where the radiation was directed.
The doctor might also prescribe periodic radiological tests after the treatment to determine whether the cancer is responsive or not.
The two biggest advantages of this treatment are that it delivers higher radiation compared to conventional X-ray-based radiotherapy and that it has fewer side-effects than the latter.
Particle therapy is best suited for tumors needing higher radiation doses. Many times, the capacity to deliver higher doses has provided better results for people than the conventional process of radiotherapy.
Particle therapy also has low side-effects as it limits the harm to healthy tissue. This holds true even if the dosage is the same as in traditional radiation therapy. This is why this approach is useful for treating cancer in children since it can target the cancer cells without harming other cells in a maturing body. Children who undergo traditional radiation are more prone to stunted growth.
The treatment cost in India might range from around $18,000 (INR 14,00,000) to $25,000 (INR 19,00,000), as the base package. The normal cost of complete therapy would be somewhere between $33,000 and $39,000 (INR 25,00,000 and INR 30,00,000). Still, this is only one-third of what most hospitals in the U.S. charge.
Hence, if you suffer from some kind of cancer, particle therapy might be prescribed to you. However, check with the doctor which kind of therapy you should be going for, and also factor in the costs and associated risks, however low.