What we think about proton beam therapy


What is proton beam therapy?

Proton beam therapy is a relatively new type of radiotherapy that uses tiny, high energy particles, so-called ‘protons’ to target and kill cancer cells. It reduces the damage to surrounding healthy tissues and vital organs which is why certain groups of people such as young children or people whose cancer is close to vital organs benefit from the treatment. However, for other groups of patients or types of cancer, there has been little evidence of significantly improved treatment benefits, such as better cancer control and reduced side effects, than compared to conventional radiotherapy treatment.

What do we think?

For men with localised prostate cancer, current evidence suggests that proton beam therapy does not produce better outcomes than existing radiotherapy techniques. There is also limited evidence to suggest that it results in fewer side effects than radiotherapy. Because standard radiotherapy works just as well as, or better than proton beam therapy, it isn’t used to treat prostate cancer in the UK. (i)

Radiotherapy is a highly effective treatment for localised prostate cancer, enabling 98% of men with localised prostate cancer who receive conventional radiotherapy survive for at least 10 years. (ii) Men with this stage of the disease can also choose from a series of other treatment options that include active surveillance, radical prostatectomy and brachytherapy.

Unless further clinical trials are carried out to show that proton beam therapy will benefit men with prostate cancer through increased overall survival or the reduction of side effects, Prostate Cancer UK does not actively encourage men to pay for this treatment or seek it abroad.

If you have any concerns about prostate cancer or the treatment options for localised prostate cancer, you can confidentially contact our Specialist Nurses on 0800 074 8383.

i NHS England (16020/P): Clinical Commissioning Policy: Proton Beam Therapy for Cancer of the Prostate. July 2016.

ii Hamdy, F., Donovan, J., Lane, J., Mason, M., Metcalfe, C., Holding, P., Davis, M., Peters, T., Turner, E., Martin, R., Oxley, J., Robinson, M., Staffurth, J., Walsh, E., Bollina, P., Catto, J., Doble, A., Doherty, A., Gillatt, D., Kockelbergh, R., Kynaston, H., Paul, A., Powell, P., Prescott, S., Rosario, D., Rowe, E. and Neal, D. (2016). 10-Year Outcomes after Monitoring, Surgery, or Radiotherapy for Localized Prostate Cancer. New England Journal of Medicine, 375(15), pp.1415-1424.