ProCure doctors discuss an improved option for cancer treatment

Dr. Nicholas DeNunzio, MD, PhD, DABR
Dr. Brian Chon, MD

To date, there are various forms of cancer treatment available to patients and there’s no doubt that newer technologies will continue to come about. In this piece, we share some insights from a recent interview we conducted with Dr. Brian Chon, MD from ProCure and Dr. Nicholas DeNunzio, MD from Hackensack Meridian Health to better understand how proton therapy is setting cancer treatment onto a new path.


What is proton therapy and how is it different from traditional treatment?

Proton therapy, to put it simply, is a more advanced form of radiation for cancer treatment. Protons are easier to finetune and limit, therefore making it a more precise process. In traditional x-ray radiation therapy, there are “chargeless, massless” entities that can be deflected as the x-rays travel through tissue, according to Dr. DeNunzio.

In other words, the doses of radiation do reach the tumor. However, they can also reach the tissue around the intended area of treatment, causing more damage to the healthy tissue. Proton radiation enters with a lot less energy and force.

“Once depth is reached where we know the tumor cells are, we can then make it detonate like a firecracker,” said Dr. Chon.

Here is how proton therapy works in the body

Proton therapy essentially works by damaging the DNA by which the tumor cells operate. Side effects vary depending on the location of the treatment in the body. Patients are often observed to tolerate proton therapy better than tradition radiation treatment, according to Dr. Chon and Dr. DeNunzio. This is due to the ability to be more precise with proton treatment.

Lower doses and more precision minimize the risk of severe side effects. Due to the reduction in radiation intensity, doctors are able to spare about 60-70% of the dose to the surrounding tissues on average, Dr. Chon explained.

Therefore, the side effects that some patients may endure are lower energy from the treatment and possible skin irritation in the location of where the treatment took place. Major side effects aren’t likely.

Are there any limitations on proton therapy in terms of tumor size?

Although proton therapy is a more precise form of radiation, there are no limits to how it can terminate larger masses. Proton treatment may actually prove to work more efficiently on breaking down large tumors, according to Dr. Chon and Dr. DeNunzio. Along with this, proton treatment is utilized to treat cancers that have spread to bodily areas previously exposed to radiation. This is due to its capability to treat the tumor with precision, as opposed to adding extensive damage to nearby cells that have already been touched by x-ray radiation.

The science behind proton therapy

Proton therapy uses an “innovative technology,” according to Dr. Chon. The very source of protons in treatment is hydrogen gas. This works by injecting hydrogen gas into the cyclotron which is a large, metallic, circular structure that extracts the protons from the hydrogen with electricity. The hydrogen gas is spun to approximately 2/3 the speed of light and then extracted from the cyclotron down the beamline into the room where the patient is located and then into the intended area of treatment in the patient.

In what direction is the field of proton therapy headed?

Proton therapy opens new doors for cancer treatment, according to Dr. Chon and Dr. DeNunzio. Most importantly, proton therapy offers another option for patients to choose a more advanced and appropriate way of treating their specific cancer, with greater precision and lower risk of side effects.

A possible plan that would become beneficial over the long-term is reaching out to patients 10-30 years out after their treatment to determine which patients are benefiting the most. This allows for the long-term comparison between proton therapy and other forms of radiation.

A study that has been investigated so far is the topic of breast cancer. Dr Chon said that he and fellow doctors have seen increased risks of heart attacks and cardiac complications in breast cancer patients who have been treated on the left side versus the right side. They weren’t sure if this was a possible blip in the observation so they took it a step further.

Recent research suggests that patients being treated on the left side receive higher doses of radiation to the heart. In this specific instance, proton therapy allows for the reduction of dosage to the heart of breast cancer patients.

Keeping New Jersey patients close to home

Some exciting news to note is that ProCure has formed a new partnership with Hackensack Meridian Health. This allows for New Jersey patients to have access to proton therapy close to home, as opposed to having to travel to clinics outside of the state. Notably, ProCure is also involved with all major healthcare providers, which makes the clinic accessible to more patients in New Jersey.

“Proton therapy is an important tool and we have to personalize the care of every individual patient,” said Dr. Chon.

Not only is there excitement around the clinical care being fulfilled but also around the clinical research being found and the new information coming out to help cancer patients. ProCure Proton Therapy Center is currently participating in over 21 clinical trials.

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