Proton therapy can offer fewer side effects for breast cancer patients


Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. One in 8 women will develop breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society. But, there are new options available to reduce side effects of treatment and increase survival rates.

Here, Peter Y. Chen, M.D., a Beaumont Health radiation oncologist, answers questions about breast cancer and explains a treatment option that often has fewer side effects.

How important are breast self-exams and regular mammograms?

Women who have regular mammograms and perform self-exams have a greater chance of detecting breast cancer earlier. Knowing what to look for and performing thorough self-examinations on a regular basis saves lives. If you don’t know how to check yourself, talk with your doctor.

Is it true some side effects of breast cancer treatment might not appear for decades?

Yes. It’s important to maintain a relationship with your physician and care team after your treatment. Breasts are close to other vital organs. Some side effects might not appear until decades after a woman has been treated for cancer.

Can some breast cancer treatments damage your heart?

Yes. According to the American Heart Association, some breast cancer therapies might damage the heart. This cardiovascular injury may result in significant lifestyle changes and could be life threatening in some breast cancer survivors. That’s why, for some women, proton therapy can be a better option than conventional radiation.

The links between cancer treatment and heart disease: what to know

What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is a high-tech alternative to X-ray radiation that offers greater precision to destroy cancerous cells and spare adjacent healthy tissue with fewer side effects. Proton therapy uses positively charged atomic particles, traveling up to two-thirds the speed of light, to accurately focus radiation to the site of cancer with no exit dose traveling through the patient’s healthy tissues.

Why is proton therapy a good choice for some breast cancer patients?

Proton therapy can treat breast tumors in women who have breast conservation therapy, as well as those who are post-mastectomy. Proton therapy stops at the tumor, which minimizes the radiation dose to nearby tissues.

Proton therapy allows doctors to safely deliver the intended radiation dose to the tumor. The treatment does not affect nearby organs such as the heart and lung. This is especially important in left-sided breast cancer, as the cancer is close to those critical organs.

What if I’ve already had radiation therapy?

Proton therapy can treat some recurrent cancers that cannot be treated with more traditional X-ray radiation due to the normal-tissue sparing effect of the proton beam.  Talk with your doctor to see if proton therapy might be an option for you.

When is the appropriate time to begin proton therapy?

Your doctor, surgeon and oncologist will work with you to develop a personal treatment plan. Proton therapy usually starts four to six weeks after surgery or chemotherapy.

How can I find the nearest Proton Therapy Center?

There are fewer than 30 proton centers around the country. Michigan’s first and only operational proton therapy center is located at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. You can find more information about proton therapy and a map of centers at

This story originally appeared in the / Detroit Free Press 2018 Cancer Guide.

view all stories

Beaumont’s Proton Therapy Center

Royal Oak, Michigan

Learn More