Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

Physicians and scientists, including those at the Northwestern Medicine Proton Center, work tirelessly on lung cancer treatments that improve outcomes while minimizing risks and side effects. Proton therapy is one method of treatment to come out of this research, especially for stage III non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC).

Proton therapy uses precisely controlled protons so most of the radiation ends up directly in the tumor, reducing the risk of damage to surrounding healthy tissues. This is especially important when it comes to radiation treatment for lung cancer because the cancer may be close to critical organs.

As part of the Northwestern Medicine care network, the team at the Proton Center is dedicated to explaining all of your treatment options for lung cancer and facilitating a conversation with you and your physician or oncologist to determine the best course of treatment for you.

To learn if you can benefit from proton therapy, call 1.877.887.5807 or fill out our online form.

Request Appointment

Advantages of Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

Excess radiation to the healthy tissue surrounding a tumor can increase the risk of side effects. This is a major concern when it comes to radiation treatment for lung cancer because the cancer may be close to your heart, healthy lung, esophagus, and other critical organs. The unique properties of protons allow proton radiation to better conform to the tumor, reducing radiation to the healthy tissues and organs around it.

Proton therapy offers:

  • Similar efficacy to other forms of radiation2,3
  • Less unnecessary radiation to your heart, lung, and esophagus4
  • Significantly lower rates of pneumonitis and esophagitis (less inflammation of the lungs and esophagus)
A lung scan of a proton therapy patient. 

Vertical CT Imaging Technology

The Northwestern Medicine Proton Center has the ability to offer vertical CT imaging technology to its patients which allows proton therapy planning images to be taken while a patient is in a seated position. Research has demonstrated that imaging patients in an upright position (as compared to a supine, or lying, position) reduces motion within the chest and increases absolute lung volumes. This capability allows clinicians to develop a treatment plan that targets lung tumors more accurately and minimizes radiation to healthy lung tissue and adjacent organs.

Benefits for patients

Using vertical CT imaging technology to capture treatment planning images with patients in the upright position enables us to:

  • Treat patients in an upright or seated position which provides the potential to increase absolute lung volumes as well as decrease tumor motion to better target proton treatments
  • Provide a greater degree of comfort for the patient during imaging for treatment planning
Northwestern Medicine Proton Center virtual tour

What to Expect with Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is considered safe, non-invasive and painless. Depending on the patient's diagnosis, treatments are usually given five days a week. Stage I lung cancer is typically treated over two weeks with anywhere from five to 12 treatments. For stage II and III lung cancer, the course of treatment is six to seven weeks with 30-35 sessions.

Patients continue with normal activities before and after treatment. Some patients choose to work; others go on a “radiation vacation” and spend their days doing recreational activities before or after treatment.

Learn more about what to expect when getting treated.

Are You a Candidate for Proton Therapy?

You should consider proton therapy if you:

  • Have locally advanced lung cancer
  • Need concurrent chemotherapy
  • Have had prior radiation therapy
  • Have limited or poor pulmonary function

Choosing the right treatment for your lung cancer is an important decision that should be made with your physician.

Contact Us

To discover if you or a loved one could benefit from proton therapy, please call us at 877.887.5807 (TTY 711).

Request Appointment