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Putting proton therapy to the test for breast cancer

When to comes to cancer treatment, It used to be  that doctors were only concerned with saving lives. But now that patients are living longer, long-term side effects are emerging 10 ,15 years later. Which is a big concern when cancer strikes younger patients.  That's why the shift to newer treatments.
But will they live up to their promise?

“The diagnosis is scary, and the treatments are scary, and nobody can really give you a great answer how you're going to come out of the other side.”

Breast Cancer. Shelan Davis was especially worried about the long-term effects of radiation treatment. And with good reason, says SCCA radiation oncologist, L. Christine Fang Cutler, MD.

“What we found is that the radiation is very effective at decreasing breast cancer deaths, but that benefit was almost completely eliminated by an increase in cardiac mortality,” she said.

But now there’s another option: proton therapy.

“The radiation enters and we're able to tell it where to stop, so it doesn't exit through the lung or through the heart. Whereas with conventional radiation plan, there's a lot of this extra dose to the lung and the heart that is unnecessary and places patients at risk of long-term side effects.

The proton beam is also able to be sculpted to match precisely the dimensions of the tumor which allows for a higher dose of radiation, traveling at 2/3 the speed of light.

All of which, in theory, sounds like the ideal approach. However, there are no long-term studies to show that proton therapy is more effective than standard radiation for breast cancer, or that it will result in less damage to the heart and lungs. That's why a national clinical trial is being launched to answer those questions.

Shelan is not part of the trial, but is convinced she chose the right treatment for her.

“All I want to do is get back to healthy, and anything I can do to lower the toxicity of these treatments I've had to go through to make sure this cancer doesn't come back is worth it to me."

Researchers hope to begin recruiting patients starting in May. Some of the patients in this randomized trial will receive conventional radiation.

Find more information at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Proton Therapy .

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