Elaine Explains… Protons!

Proton Beam Therapy.

What is it? Where does Angel have it? Are there any side effects? Does it hurt? How long does it take?

What is Proton Beam Therapy?

Proton Therapy is the most precise form of radiation treatment available in the world. It destroys the primary tumour site, and does not effect or damage the surrounding healthy tissue and organs, leaving them intact and unharmed.

The treatment is completely painless, while receiving her treatment Angel cannot feel a thing. Proton treatment can vary in length, from days, weeks to months depending on where in your body the tumour is and the scale it has reached. We don’t know for sure, but it is estimated Angel’s treatment will take approximately 8 weeks (depending on the response).

Where does Angel go for her treatment, and when does she have it?

Where Angel receives her treatment – The University of Florida Proton Institute – offers hundreds of patients a promising alternative to traditional radiation. A lower risk of side effects, more precise treatment capabilities, and an impressive success rate make proton therapy an option for patients diagnosed with: Prostate cancer; Brain cancer; Head and neck cancer; Lung cancer; Pancreatic cancer; Soft tissue cancer and Pediatric cancer. Protons are often used in conjunction with other cancer treatments – such as chemo (which Angel is not having).

The Proton centre is very nice, and Angel has made many friends here. Elaine drives her shortly before her treatment time, (we know our way now, despite the awful satnav!!) although we often come earlier and stay for the day. There is a main lobby, a library, computer area, a kids room, an xbox, tea, coffee, hot chocolate (and marshmellows!) There is also a family room where we attend lunches, presentations and family fun activities.

Angel receives her treatment Monday – Friday once a day. Although this can sometimes take up to 50 minutes, the actual time she is receiving the proton is very short, there’s just a lot of re-arranging to be done! All on camera, and lots of sci-fi pictures to take!

Does Angel have any side effects from her treatment?

While lots of side effects are associated with the treatment of a brain tumour, Angel has not – touch wood- experienced any yet. As I mentioned earlier, the treatment is completely painless and non-invasive. She still goes swimming almost every day and can watch TV and do arts and crafts.

Why did Angel have to go to America for her treatment?

I will make a more informative post on this shortly, but for the interim – Proton therapy was limited to research labs until late 1990, like many new technologies it can be a very expensive process! A Proton centre is a very expensive programme for universities and medical centers. Proton beam therapy is not currently available in the U.K, but we are in the best place we can be for treatment for Angel’s brain tumour.

I still don’t understand, how do the Protons work? TELL US! WE LOVE SCIENCE!

You might (school goers!) be familiar with the process of ionization – which changes the characteristics of the atom, and as a result therfore the character of the molecule (which contains the atom!)

Ptoton therapy is pretty much like that – essentially – the protons are a superior type of radiation, let’s call them first class. All tissues are made up of molecules, with the atoms as their building blocks.

In the middle of each atom is the nucleus – around the nucleus of the atom are the negatively charaged electrons. When energized, the particles (such as the protons, or other forms of radiation) swish past the orbiting electrons… the positve charge of the protons attracts these negatively charged electrons, effectively pulling them out of their orbits. This is the ionization.

Because of ionization, the radiation damages molecules within the cells (especially genetic cells or DNA – which in turn can destroy cell function.)

Both standard x-ray therapy and proton beams work on the principle of selective cell destruction.  The major advantage of proton treatment over conventional radiation, however, is that the energy distribution of protons can be directed and deposited in tissue volumes designated by the physicians-in a three-dimensional pattern from each beam used.

Proton treatment instead of standard radiation, means that the energy distribution of protons can be directed and deposited in tissue volumes designated by the physicians-in a three-dimensional pattern from each beam used. This capability provides greater control and precision and, therefore, superior management of treatment. (Hence first class!)

Protons, on the other hand, are energized to specific velocities. These energies determine how deeply in the body protons will deposit their maximum energy. As the protons move through the body, they slow down, causing increased interaction with orbiting electrons.

Maximum interaction with electrons occurs as the protons approach their targeted stopping point, meaning the surrounding healthy cells receive significantly less injury than the cells in the designated volume.

As a result of the protons’ dose-distribution characteristics, the radiation oncologist can increase the dose to the tumor while reducing the dose to surrounding normal tissues.’This allows the dose to be increased beyond that which less-conformal radiation will allow. The overall affects lead to the potential for fewer harmful side effects, more direct impact on the tumor, and increased tumor control.

Elaine I just skim-read that, we don’t all love science.

I found this neat little video online, made by the MD Anderson Proton Center at The University of Texas – which explains protons to children. 🙂

Explaining Protons to kids


Next up…. the mask. Iron Man ‘aint got nothin’ on Angel!


2 thoughts on “Elaine Explains… Protons!

  1. Hi angel and bev , hope all is going well and all of you are ok, when your not having treatment angel I hope your enjoying America best as you can ,thinking of you both from Stacy and shaun and boys x

  2. Pingback: Elaine Explains – Has it worked? What Happens Next? | Angel Gregson

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