Proton beam therapy is an advanced form of therapy for cancer treatment. Currently, there are only 3 cancer centres in Singapore that are planning to offer this treatment from 2023 – Mount Elizabeth Hospital (Novena), National Cancer Centre Singapore (SGH), and Singapore Institute of Advanced Medicine Holdings / Proton Therapy SG.
What Is Proton Beam Therapy?
Proton beam therapy (or proton therapy in short), is a particular form of external-beam radiation therapy. During external-beam radiation therapy, a machine that is outside of the patient’s body delivers radiation to the targeted cancer cells through the skin.
Conventional radiotherapy kills cancer cells using photon from X-rays. On the other hand, proton beam therapy, as the name suggests, uses positively charged particles called protons to destroy cancer cells. It has certain key advantages compared to conventional radiotherapy, and these allow new possibilities for cancer treatment. Proton beam therapy may be used by itself for cancer treatment, or it may be combined with conventional radiotherapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy.
The latest proton therapy delivery systems are the size of a tennis court (older designs are more space-intensive and may be as large as a football field). The high level of energy involved also requires the installation of thick radiation shielding.
How It Works
A particle accelerator called a cyclotron speeds up protons, creating high levels of energy. These protons are then fired into targeted areas in the patient’s body where the cancer cells are located. When the protons reach the target depth, they release their radiation dose which destroys the cancer cells. The beam of protons delivered under proton beam therapy is very targeted and accurate. It can be accurate to a degree of a single millimetre, and can be as narrow as the width of a pencil.
What Are The Advantages Of Proton Beam Therapy For Cancer Treatment?
Better Quality Of Life Compared To Conventional Radiotherapy
Proton treatment has certain key advantages compared to conventional radiotherapy:
- Less radiation dose is delivered to nearby healthy cells.
- There is no entry and exit radiation dose. The radiation is only released only at the targeted depth in the body.
- As a result of there being less radiation delivered to surrounding tissues, delivery of higher dosage of radiation to targeted areas is possible.
Patients benefit as they may enjoy better quality of life due to there being potentially fewer and less severe side effects and complications.
Possible To Treat Cancers Near Sensitive, Vital Organs
Proton beam therapy’s precision also makes it possible to use radiation therapy for cancers that are near vital organs. These are situations whereby radiation treatment may not be possible using conventional radiation therapy. Examples include head, neck, and brain cancers, for instance, risk losing their sight, sense of smell and sense of taste when treated with conventional radiotherapy.
- Children suffering from cancer are in particular at high risk from complications from conventional radiation treatment, as they have a smaller body size and their bodies are still in the development stages. Possible serious side effects from conventional radiation treatment that impact lifetime quality of life, include stunted growth, infertility, and impaired cognitive abilities (depends on where the cancer is located).
- These risks are greatly reduced with proton beam technology. In many cases, due to the proximity of sensitive organs-at-risk, conventional radiotherapy might not even be possible.
Post-Treatment Cancer Recurrence Is Less Likely
There is evidence that suggests that with proton beam treatment, cancers that are successfully treated are less likely to recur.
Who Might Benefit From Proton Beam Therapy
An estimated 60% of cancer patients require radiation therapy. Of these, it is estimated that about 20% may benefit from proton beam treatment. These are patients who have cancers that have not metastasised, or are near important organs, and child cancer patients. This therapy may be used to treat:
- Cancerous and non-cancerous brain tumours.
- Cancers of the central nervous system.
- Cancers of the eye.
- Other head and neck cancers.
- Lung cancer
- Liver cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Sarcomas (soft-tissue and bone cancers)
What Is The Cost For Proton Beam Therapy In Singapore?
Proton beam therapy cost about 3x more than for conventional radiotherapy in Singapore. The cost is around $100,000 for about 30 treatments.
Claimable Under MediShield, MediSave, and Integrated Shield Plans
As at Mar 2023, proton beam therapy is claimable under MediShield and MediSave. It is also claimable under an number of Integrated Shield Plans. Do check with your insurance representative if your specific plan includes coverage for proton beam treatment, what the latest criteria are for eligibility for claims.
Further Reading On Cancer Treatment In Singapore
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This article is informative only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.