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Frequently Asked Questions About Proton Therapy

April 01, 2021

Soon, adults and children who have cancer will not be forced to travel out of state to receive lifesaving proton therapy. The innovative and highly precise radiation therapy will be provided through The University of Kansas Cancer Center, the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, beginning in early 2022.

Construction on the proton therapy site began early in 2020. When completed, the multimillion-dollar facility will serve patients from throughout the region and beyond, with room to expand as demand grows.

By providing proton therapy here, our cancer patients can remain closer to their home, family and much-needed support systems. Currently, there are only 38 proton therapy centers in the United States. There are no centers in Kansas or the surrounding states of Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado and Arkansas.

To learn more about the most advanced and precise form of radiation therapy available today, we visited with Ronny Rotondo, MDCM, FRCPC, medical director of proton therapy at the cancer center.

Q. What is proton therapy?

A. Proton therapy is a form of external beam radiation that uses energized protons to deliver radiation to a tumor, whereas conventional radiation uses X-rays or photons. When photons interact with tissue during treatment, they deposit a significant dose of radiation at the entrance path to the tumor, within the tumor target and across to the other side. This leaves a trail of potential injury to healthy tissue beyond the tumor target.

With proton therapy, energized protons interact with healthy tissue differently. There is a lower dose at the entrance path to the tumor and most of the radiation is deposited within the tumor target. Beyond the target, there is no exit dose; radiation does not travel beyond the target. This allows us to target and focus the radiation much more precisely, concentrating radiation in the target, where it will benefit the patient, and minimizing radiation to the surrounding healthy tissue.

Q. What types of cancer does proton therapy treat?

A. Proton therapy is beneficial for treating most localized solid tumors/recurrent tumors that are close to critical organs/structures because it provides such focused and precise delivery. This includes tumors of the ocular area, brain, skull base, spine, sinonasal and head and neck, and hepatobiliary system (liver, gallbladder, pancreas).

It’s especially beneficial in treating pediatric cancers, as children are particularly sensitive to the effects of radiation and even low doses can have a significant impact on their growth and development. Lower radiation dose to the body also means we may be able to significantly decrease the risk of a secondary radiation-induced tumor. In pediatric patients, proton therapy may be beneficial to treat a wide variety of tumors including tumors of the brain, skull base and spine, chest, abdomen and pelvis, and most tumors that are close to sensitive structures such as the heart or spinal cord.

Overall, a variety of patients can benefit from this type of treatment, and we continue to investigate additional therapeutic opportunities where proton therapy may be appropriate.

Proton therapy may be beneficial for treating cancers of the:

Q. How is proton therapy different from photon radiation treatment?

A. Traditional radiation delivers X-rays, or beams of photons, to the tumor and beyond it. This can damage nearby healthy tissues and cause serious side effects. In contrast, proton therapy delivers a beam of proton particles that stops at the tumor, so damage to nearby healthy tissue is minimized.

Proton therapy vs. conventional X-ray

Q. Who is eligible for proton therapy?

A. As was mentioned previously, there are commonly recognized indications for proton therapy. That said, each case must be evaluated separately, with all factors considered. Just because a patient has a type of cancer that can be treated with proton therapy does not mean that patient will benefit from this type of treatment.

We are available and happy to meet with patients to discuss their cancer diagnosis to determine what type of treatment will benefit them most. We encourage anyone who has received a cancer diagnosis to contact us so we can discuss treatment options best suited to their situation. The University of Kansas Cancer Center is the only center in this region that will be able to offer every treatment option available – so that each patient can receive the most appropriate type of radiation treatment, including proton therapy, for their diagnosis. 

Q. When will you start offering proton therapy?

A. We expect to begin treating patients in early 2022.

Q. Where will your proton therapy treatment be located?

A. The Proton Therapy Center will be located at:

Richard and Annette Bloch Radiation Oncology Pavilion
4001 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160

Q. Why is it important to offer proton therapy at an academic medical center with a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center?

A. NCI-designated cancer centers, such as The University of Kansas Cancer Center, are recognized for their scientific leadership in laboratory and clinical research. In addition to serving communities across the state of Kansas and in western Missouri, our impact is broadened because we integrate training and education for biomedical researchers and healthcare professionals.

We dedicate significant resources toward developing research programs, faculty and facilities, such as proton therapy, that will lead to better and innovative approaches to cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment. Our renowned cancer experts 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.

By bringing this innovative treatment here, we will also have unlimited opportunities to continue research on proton therapy for new and expanded uses in the future. Proton therapy will benefit adult and pediatric patients alike and further advance our research and education missions as one of the nation’s leading cancer centers.

Proton Therapy in Kansas

Dr. Ronald Chen, associate director for health equity at KU Cancer Center, speaks with Dr. Ronny Rotondo, director of Proton Therapy for The University of Kansas Health System, about the future of proton therapy at The University of Kansas Cancer Center

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