Proton therapy for cancer lowers risk of side effects

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Proton therapy for cancer lowers risk of side effects

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The researchers focused their study on what are called grade 3 adverse events, which are severe enough to require hospitalization. These can include pain, difficulty swallowing that might result in weight loss, difficulty breathing, and nausea and diarrhea severe enough to cause dehydration.

The researchers also found no differences between the two groups in survival, suggesting that proton therapy was just as effective in treating the cancer even as it caused fewer side effects. Overall survival at one year for the proton therapy group was 83 percent of patients versus 81 percent for the X-ray radiation therapy group. This difference was not statistically significant.
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This study is the first large review of data across several cancer types to show a reduced side-effect profile for proton therapy compared with X-ray radiation therapy for patients receiving combined chemotherapy and radiation. Both types of radiation therapy are approved by the Food and Drug Administration for cancer treatment. Protons are relatively heavy, positively charged particles that hit their target and stop. X-ray beams consist of photons, which are much smaller particles that have almost no mass, allowing them to travel all the way through the body, passing through healthy tissue on the way out.

Baumann noted that patients in the proton group had fewer side effects despite the fact that they were older — with an average age of 66 — than patients in the X-ray radiation therapy group — with an average age of 61. Baumann said this age difference is due to a quirk of insurance. Medicare, with its minimum enrollment age of 65, covers proton therapy. But since proton therapy is more expensive to administer than X-ray radiation therapy, most private insurers do not cover it.

Baumann, who treats patients at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, said he and his colleagues did not compare the costs of the two different therapies and their associated adverse events, but they plan to in future studies.

This work was supported by research funds from the University of Pennsylvania.

Baumann BC, Mitra N, Harton JG, Xiao Y, Wojcieszynski AP, Gabriel PE, Zhong H, Geng H, Doucette A, Wei J, O’Dwyer PJ, Bekelman JE, Metz JM. Comparative effectiveness of proton therapy versus photon therapy as part of concurrent chemo-radiotherapy for locally advanced cancer. American Society of Clinical Oncology poster session. June 1, 2019.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 1,500 faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is a leader in medical research, teaching and patient care, ranking among the top 10 medical schools in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

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