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Renewed Hope for Prostate Cancer

Targeting Prostate Cancer with Protons

Twelve percent of all men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime, but many of their treatment plans may not be the right fit. Northwestern Medicine Proton Center offers a precise and effective therapy that could finally offer hope to those with prostate cancer.

While intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) has been the standard approach to prostate cancer treatment, scientists at Northwestern Medicine Proton Center offer compelling evidence that proton therapy may be a better option. Their recent study indicates that proton therapy treatment for prostate cancer is associated with higher survival rates and decreased risk of complications compared to IMRT.

“This new evidence supports that proton therapy is at least as good as standard radiation therapy and may be significantly better in some areas, especially protecting normal tissue outside of the prostate,” says the study’s lead author, William Hartsell, MD, medical director of Northwestern Medicine Proton Center. “In addition, the evidence shows that proton therapy may benefit younger patients who we are most concerned about developing secondary cancers later in life.”

Northwestern Medicine Proton Center is the first and only proton therapy center in Illinois and one of only 26 in North America. Proton therapy attacks tumors with protons – heavy, positively charged atomic particles – instead of the standard X-rays used in conventional radiation therapy. Protons deposit much of their energy directly into the tumor and then stop, whereas conventional radiation moves through and beyond the tumor, which can affect healthy tissue.

Dr. Hartsell and his colleagues reviewed the records of more than 28,000 patients who were treated with IMRT and 851 patients who were treated with proton therapy from 2006 to 2012. The scientists established that the five-year overall survival rate for patients who received proton therapy was 93.25 percent, while the five-year survival rate for patients who received IMRT was 88.43 percent.

The scientists also found that significantly more patients experienced bladder, endocrine or other complications after IMRT compared to proton therapy. And, more patients who received IMRT (10.5 percent) developed secondary cancers compared to patients who received proton therapy (6.1 percent). “This study is a significant update on the effectiveness of proton therapy for prostate cancer,” says Dr. Hartsell. “We’re dedicated to supporting the advancement of science and care through participation in clinical research trials. Our approach to clinical trials is based on collaboration with other proton centers and increasing the knowledge of the community as a whole.”