Proton Therapy for Lung Cancer

Lung cancer accounts for almost 13 percent of all cancer diagnoses, with an estimated 224,390 new cases in 2016 alone.1 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 Information

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) compared to X-ray radiation [3-D conformal radiation therapy (CRT) and Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)]3

Moreover, the Proton Center, one of the few proton therapy centers throughout the Midwest and the only one in Illinois, is equipped with a vertical CT scanner for even more precise treatment administration. The vertical CT scanner is an upright scanning system that allows the care team to take planning images while the patient is in a seated position. This capability allows clinicians to target lung tumors more accurately with proton therapy and minimize radiation to healthy lung tissue and adjacent organs. In addition to more precise treatment, this approach provides greater comfort for the patient and decrease tumor motion.

Clinical Evidence in Stage III Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer (NSCLC)

The image on the right shows the amount of radiation that the body receives during treatment for stage III NSCLC with proton therapy in comparison to X-ray/IMRT treatment. Colors indicate areas of the body that received radiation. Compared to IMRT, proton therapy significantly reduced the dose of radiation to surrounding tissue, especially the heart and the healthy lung.

The data in support of proton therapy and its unique advantages continues to grow. In a study with stage III NSCLC patients, proton therapy is estimated to reduce 34 percent of radiation to the heart and 45 percent to the healthy lung when compared to IMRT.4 A separate study from M.D. Anderson demonstrated that proton therapy had better than expected median survivorship, lower local recurrence, and improved side effects compared to historical controls.3 Comparison across studies evaluating high dose X-ray radiation and high dose proton radiation for locally advanced lung cancer suggests better treatment tolerability as well as outcomes with proton therapy.2,5

Based on the data, the Proton Center has identified intrathoracic tumors, particularly lung cancers, as an area of where proton therapy can be a tremendous benefit for our patients. Since its inception, our center has treated intrathoracic tumors including many challenging primary and recurrent lung cancers. As our multidisciplinary thoracic oncology program continues to grow, we look forward to providing this leading-edge treatment to many more patients.

Proton Center
In a study with stage III NSCLC patients, proton therapy is estimated to reduce 34 percent of radiation to the heart and 45 percent to the healthy lung when compared to IMRT.4
Proton Center

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. Request more information or call 877.887.5807 to learn if you can benefit from proton therapy.

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 Information