Proton Therapy at Huntsman Cancer Institute

The Senator Orrin G. Hatch Proton Therapy Center at Huntsman Cancer Institute will open in spring 2021. Our radiation oncologists offer a range of the very best treatments individualized for patients. Proton therapy is one of many options we can use to treat your cancer.

A Message to Our Patients

"Proton therapy is one of many types of radiation treatments we can offer. Our expert care teams work with patients to determine the very best options for each unique person."

Matthew Poppe, MD
Radiation Oncologist
Huntsman Cancer Institute

Matthew Poppe with patient

What is Proton Therapy?

Proton therapy is a newer type of radiation therapy. Similar to other types of radiation therapy, it uses invisible, high-energy beams to treat cancer. The difference is that proton therapy uses particles called protons instead of photons or electrons used in other radiation treatment beams.

This difference allows us to decrease radiation dose to healthy tissue. With proton radiation, we can provide the same effective dose of radiation to treat the cancer with a lower amount of radiation going to the surrounding tissues. Proton therapy is one of the many tools Huntsman Cancer Institute radiation oncologists have available and is not always the best solution for everyone. Radiation is often just one part of a person’s cancer treatment plan. Cancer treatments may also include surgery and chemotherapy.

This video shows an example of the proton therapy treatment process and what to expect during a proton therapy treatment session. 

Who Can Get Proton Therapy?

Proton therapy can be used to treat adults and children with many different types of cancer. The usual treatment course happens five days a week over four to eight weeks.

Proton therapy is recommended based on many factors:

  • The location of the cancer, such as a part of the body that affects the brain or brain development, the heart, lungs, or areas with nearby structures that are very sensitive to radiation.
  • The health of the patient.
  • The age of the patient. Children and young adults have some of the greatest benefits due to their long life expectancy and the fact that they are still growing and developing.

Proton therapy will not be the right option for every patient. Huntsman Cancer Institute offers a wide range of state-of-the-art radiation treatments. Our doctors and care teams work with patients, considering their unique situation, to offer a personalized plan.

Does Proton Therapy Work Better?

We are still learning more about the benefits of proton therapy compared to other types of radiation therapy. In general, proton radiation and the more standard photon radiation are equally effective at killing cancer cells.

These are some known benefits of proton therapy:

  • More direct targeting of tumors
  • Lower radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue
  • Potentially, reduced short- and long-term side effects
  • Sometimes, by reducing expected side effects an increase in radiation dose can be given

For these reasons, some experts believe that proton therapy is more effective than traditional radiation, but research is ongoing.

What are the Side Effects of Proton Therapy?

As with all types of cancer treatment, proton therapy has side effects. However, a study published in JAMA Oncology showed that patients have fewer and lesser serious side effects from proton therapy than traditional radiation therapy.

The side effects of proton therapy are similar to other radiation treatments and greatly depend on where the radiation is being delivered. Side effects can include the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Mouth sores
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss where the treatment is given
  • Skin changes

Does Insurance Cover the Cost of Proton Therapy?

Proton therapy can be expensive. Many, but not all, insurance policies cover proton therapy for the appropriate patient and cancer type. All patients considering proton therapy should talk to a financial counselor and their insurance provider before having this treatment.

What Hospitals Offer Proton Therapy?

The proton therapy center at Huntsman Cancer Institute is the very first in the Mountain West. Currently, the closest proton therapy centers are more than 700 miles away in southern Arizona, southern California, or western Washington. Having proton therapy at Huntsman Cancer Institute is a major benefit for our patients and caregivers who no longer have to travel far distances or incur the cost of long-term stays out of state.

How Can I Learn More?

Please contact our clinic at 801-587-4631 or protons@hci.utah.edu.