More than 100,000 people will be diagnosed with head and neck cancer this year in the US, according to the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance. While many of those cancers are curable, patients face a number of challenges due to their complex location.
Physicians are tasked with preserving healthy surrounding structures such as the optic nerves, eyes, brain stem, and spinal cord while also treating a patient’s malignant tumor. Protons offer potential advantages in treating cancers of the head and neck by delivering high radiation doses to the cancer target while sparing sensitive structures. As a result, proton therapy may reduce the risk of side effects and late complications from radiation treatment, which can include neurologic complications such as blindness and hearing loss as well as effects such as xerostomia that impact one’s quality of life.
Proton therapy may also allow patients to better tolerate systemic therapies like chemotherapy when combined with radiation therapy. In patients with recurrences after previous radiation therapy, proton therapy may allow further treatment to be done while minimizing the risks.
“I was first introduced to proton therapy by my doctors,” said Keith Deaver, who underwent treatment in 2013 for his rare sinus cancer. “With its minimal side effects, proton therapy was the best fit for treating my tumor. While no one ever wants to get cancer, it’s nice to know there are options out there that not only fight the tumor but preserve your quality of life.”