General Health

Proton Therapy For Breast Cancer

Many people with breast cancer undergo radiation therapy as a part of their treatment. The most crucial benefit of radiation therapy is that it can destroy the cancer cells within a specific area. However, radiation affects normal cells as well. Proton therapy is an external beam radiation therapy that can decrease the risk of damaging the surrounding tissues. For example, people with breast cancer usually suffer from damage to the heart and lungs due to radiation therapy.

What is proton therapy?

Radiation therapy uses high-intensity energy to destroy cancer cells. In traditional radiation therapy the energy comes from the X-ray beams. These beans pass through the tumour and can damage the nearby healthy tissues and organs.

Proton therapy, however, allows more precise targeting of the cancer cells. Since it uses charged particles called protons instead of X-rays. The energy beams can be concentrated directly on the tumour without letting it pass through the underlying tissue  Thus, proton therapy decreases the risk of damage to the heart and lungs. This is helpful if one gas cancer on the left side, close to the heart.

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Proton therapy can be used in the following cases:-

  • Stage 1,2,3 of breast cancer
  • Estrogen receptor -positive or negative
  • Progesterone receptor -positive or negative
  • HER2-positive or negative
  • Triple-positive
  • Triple-negative
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Ductal carcinoma in situ
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma

A research study published in 2018 suggests that breast cancer patients are most likely to benefit from proton therapy over radiation therapy.

Factors that increase the radiation to the heart include:-

  • Tumors on the left side
  • Tumors in the inner quadrant
  • Females having a mastectomy
  • People who receive radiation therapy to regional lymph nodes

Breast cancer patients usually undergo multiple therapies. These include:-

  • Mastectomy or lumpectomy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormonal therapy
  • Biologic therapy

The following factors influence the treatment plan

  • Age and overall health
  • Stage at diagnosis
  • Type of breast cancer
  • Tumor grade
  • Previous cancer treatment if it is a recurrent case

How effective is proton therapy for breast cancer?

Research published in 2017 stated that proton therapy is safer and more effective than traditional radiation therapy. A study done in 2018 showed that 42 people had proton therapy after a mastectomy for non-metastatic breast cancer. After 3 years of median follow-up, the overall survival rate was 97.2 per cent. Another study published in 2019 found that proton therapy for breast cancer has a similar rate of disease control as traditional radiation therapy.

What is the proton therapy procedure like?

The outpatient procedure takes just a few minutes, but one may have to wait for at least 30 minutes in the procedure room. It is usually administered five times a week for up to 6 weeks, the same as radiation therapy.

Since it is an open machine, one will not experience claustrophobia. Once correctly positioned, the therapist goes to the control room to deliver the treatment. The therapist can communicate with you through an intercom. One may leave after the completion of the session.

Side effects of the therapy:-

  • Skin tenderness
  • Redness that resembles a sunburn
  • Fatigue


Proton therapy is an advanced type of external beam radiation therapy. It delivers high-dose radiation directly to cancer cells. It is more precise than traditional radiation therapy, making it less likely to harm the nearby tissues. As a result, proton therapy decreases the risk of heart and lung damage. The experience is similar to getting traditional radiation therapy and is generally just one part of your overall treatment plan.


Tuhina Mishra

Dr. Tuhina Mishra completed her MBBS from Grant Government Medical College in the year 2021. She has published several research papers in Indian and international journals. She is a recipient of the ICMR-STS award in the year 2019. She is a staunch believer in making research an integral part of the medical curriculum. She has volunteered in several NGOs, healthcare startups, and awareness programs.

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