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Proton Therapy

About Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is an advanced cancer treatment that is used to treat tumors. This highly specialized form of radiation therapy is available only at 39 proton centers nationwide.

The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the first in the region to provide lifesaving proton therapy in Kansas City to cancer patients. Our proton therapy center is the only one of its kind in the surrounding states of Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Arkansas.

What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is a targeted form of radiation therapy that uses a precise, powerful beam of protons to deliver radiation directly to the tumor – destroying cancer cells while sparing healthy tissues. Proton therapy is often beneficial for adults and children with solid, well-defined tumors. Proton therapy can be used in combination with traditional X-ray or photon radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery.

Who can have proton therapy?

Most solid, localized tumors can be treated with proton therapy. This includes tumors in the central nervous system and lymphatic system, as well as recurring tumors. Proton therapy can be used to treat a variety of cancers, and is often used for:

Because research on proton therapy is ongoing, medical experts are working to identify additional cancers that may benefit from proton therapy.

How does proton therapy work?

Proton therapy works by delivering highly targeted radiation to a tumor. During treatment, protons move through a beam transport system and enter the body at a low radiation dose. Protons then stop at the tumor and match its shape and volume or depth and direct their cancer-fighting energy at the tumor, thereby sparing healthy tissue.

After being delivered to the exact tumor site, proton radiation has a very short life. You can leave the treatment room after receiving proton therapy without any risk of radiation exposure to others.

Benefits of proton therapy

One of the greatest benefits of proton therapy is that it conforms to the shape of your tumor. This allows for more effective treatment and also helps your surrounding organs and tissues avoid unnecessary radiation.

Additional benefits of proton therapy include:

  • Focused, precise radiation
  • Less damage to nearby healthy tissue
  • Fewer short- and long-term side effects
  • Lower risk of secondary cancers
  • Increased quality of life

Proton therapy is the most advanced form of radiation therapy for cancerous tumors currently available. More than 800 clinical studies have been published on proton therapy. Recent research published in the journal JAMA Oncology found that people who have proton therapy are two-thirds less likely to experience side effects requiring hospitalization than people who have traditional X-ray or photon radiation.

What happens during proton therapy?

Prior to your treatment, you will receive a thorough evaluation to ensure you are a good candidate for proton therapy. You will also work with your care team to plan and prepare for proton therapy. This helps ensure that the proton beam reaches the exact location in your body where it's needed most.

During proton therapy treatment, your radiation specialist will position you in a device that will help you stay still. Information from your proton therapy planning sessions is used to make sure that your prescribed proton therapy dose is delivered accurately.

The actual delivery of radiation treatment takes only a few minutes. However, your total appointment time may last 30-45 minutes or more depending on the size, number and location of your tumor(s). Once complete, you are able to return to your daily routine. You will not give off radiation after treatment and are not considered radioactive.

Proton therapy nurse navigator

The University of Kansas Cancer Center opened the region’s first Proton Therapy Center in April and began treating patients in late May. By providing proton therapy here, our cancer patients can remain closer to their home, family and much-needed support systems.

Our Proton Therapy Center provides an on-site nurse navigator to help guide patients, both young and old, through the treatment process. To learn more about the role of nurse navigator, we visited with Sara Soliman, RN, proton therapy nurse navigator at the cancer center.

  • As the nurse navigator for the Proton Therapy Center, I am the glue between the many parts that work together to get the patient through our doors and into proton treatment. My 17 years as a pediatric oncology nurse are invaluable as I work on-site at the Proton Therapy Center and am one of the first touchpoints for the patient and their family. I work behind the scenes to gather patient information and medical records, provide reassurance and comfort to the patient and their family and help the physicians understand what the patient needs. I cross multiple care settings to help connect patients to their treatment teams in a timely manner and link them with appropriate support services, such as social work and financial counselors, to help resolve barriers to care. Above all, my goal is to provide highly personalized and compassionate care to our patients and their families.

  • As one of the first touchpoints the patient and family meets, I try to reassure and comfort them because we understand that a cancer diagnosis–for anyone at any age–can be overwhelming. It’s an unfamiliar world of appointments, fears and questions, and my goal is to guide them through it all. I talk with patients and families and introduce them to The University of Kansas Cancer Center and Proton Therapy Center and the many resources we have available to ease this experience. If patients need lodging or travel assistance, we have a radiation oncology ambassador who helps coordinate that. If patients have questions about insurance or want to speak with a social worker, I help with all of that and more. I’m here to coordinate the patient’s care, setting up appointments and scheduling follow-ups, so they don’t have to. They may not see me at every visit, but I am a consistent presence for patients and families to rely on and turn to.

  • I am the single point of contact for coordination of care and collaboration between providers and teams for each patient receiving proton therapy or being considered for proton therapy. This helps ensure continuity of care, including a thorough understanding of how our patients are doing across all care areas, even if we see them through a telehealth visit.

  • For our referring physicians, I am a single point of contact who can provide information on our entire multidisciplinary team care approach. I can assess what their patient needs and help define how many providers and supportive service resources may be required. This ensures continuity of care and means our referring physician offices are not tasked with trying to reach out to inquire about individual resources. Within our cancer center, it’s team-specific, established and experienced. This is true for patients who are local or traveling from a distance or out of state. If the referral is a pediatric patient from outside the area, I help coordinate their chemotherapy care at Children’s Mercy, which is our pediatric cancer center partner. I make sure patients know when they need to return to see their physician and provide a care summary from Children’s Mercy and our cancer center. By closing this loop, I help ensure each patient receives the best and safest care.

Why choose us

As an NCI-designated cancer center, we have renowned cancer experts who bring vast knowledge and experience to help patients conquer cancer. That expertise also exists in using proton therapy as a tool to help our patients fight cancer.

Providing this innovative treatment here gives us unlimited opportunities to continue research and clinical trials on proton therapy for new and expanded uses in the future. Proton therapy benefits adult and pediatric patients alike and further advances our research and education missions as one of the nation’s leading cancer centers.

Start your path today.

Your journey to health starts here. Call 913-588-1227 or request an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

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