The dosimetric advantages of proton therapy—compared with photon therapy—have been clearly defined in many comparison studies involving various tumor sites. There are now accumulating clinical data demonstrating that this dosimetric advantage can lead to better outcomes such as reduced RT toxicity and improved treatment outcomes.
RT has an important role in treating pediatric tumors including central nervous system (CNS) tumors, extra-cranial sarcomas, neuroblastoma, and hematopoietic tumors. Long-term toxicities, including secondary malignancies, neurocognitive dysfunctions, growth and musculoskeletal problems, and cardiac problems, are major concerns in pediatric patients who undergo RT. There have been many efforts to reduce the RT dose and volume to avoid these RT-related toxicities.
Proton therapy is one of the best options to reduce unnecessary irradiation dose and volume in pediatric patients.
More than 30 pediatric tumor types were treated, mainly with curative intent: 48% were CNS, 25% extra-cranial sarcomas, 7% neuroblastoma, and 5% hematopoietic tumors
Head and Neck Tumors
Retrospective data have demonstrated better local control (LC) and overall survival (OS) with proton therapy than with photon therapy including IMRT and stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT).
Proton therapy has also demonstrated better survival rates in nasal cavity and paranasal sinus tumors.
In oropharyngeal cancers, proton therapy can reduce toxicity to normal tissues.
Proton therapy can also reduce toxicities in unilateral irradiation, such as in cases involving major salivary gland tumor and oral cavity cancers, because the exit dose of the proton beam is essentially negligible
Cognitive impairment has been one of major concerns following RT for CNS tumors. Proton therapy has a potential benefit to reduce the irradiated dose to normal brain tissue to prevent cognitive dysfunction. In addition, a dose escalation could be possible in radioresistant brain tumors such as high-grade gliomas.
Proton therapy can spare the surrounding normal tissues when it is used to treat gastrointestinal tumors. In the management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), it is very important to spare liver function. Because the liver is an organ with parallel functional subunit in the model of radiation response of normal tissues, liver toxicity is more sensitive to irradiated volume. Proton therapy has a major advantage in reducing the irradiated volume of remnant liver when irradiating the tumor. In many retrospective trials, proton therapy resulted in favorable outcomes.
Proton therapy has the advantage of irradiating the target while reducing the dose to the surrounding normal tissues; thus, it has a potential benefit in re-irradiation. Many retrospective studies investigating re-irradiation in various tumor sites have been reported.
Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer
Low-dose shower is a major risk for radiation pneumonitis (RP) when treating non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) with photon therapy. If the lateral beam placement is avoided to reduce the lung dose, the irradiated dose to heart is consequently increased and results in increased cardiac death in long-term follow-up. In many dosimetric studies, proton therapy demonstrated advantages in lung and heart dose compared with photon therapy. Several clinical studies have reported treatment outcomes and toxicities of proton therapy in early-stage disease, locally advanced disease, re-irradiation, and in postoperative settings
Indications for Proton Therapy
American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) has updated the recommendations for insurance coverage. The ASTRO recommendation is based on four selection criteria:
- a decrease in dose inhomogeneity in a large treatment volume is required to avoid an excessive dose “hotspot” within the treated volume to lessen the risk for excessive early or late normal tissue toxicity;
- the target volume is in close proximity to ≥1 critical structure(s), and a steep dose gradient outside the target must be achieved to avoid exceeding the tolerance dose to the critical structure(s);
- a photon-based technique would increase the probability of clinically meaningful normal tissue toxicity by exceeding an integral dose-based metric associated with toxicity;
- and, finally, the same or an immediately adjacent area has been previously irradiated, and the dose distribution in the patient must be carefully modelled to avoid exceeding the cumulative tolerance dose to nearby normal tissues.
Based on the above medical necessity requirements and published clinical data, group 1, which is recommended coverage is listed as follows:
- ocular tumors, including intraocular melanomas;
- skull base tumors, primary or metastatic tumors of the spine, where spinal cord tolerance may be exceeded with conventional treatment or where the spinal cord has previously been irradiated;
- hepatocellular cancer;
- pediatric tumors;
- patients with genetic syndromes making total volume of radiation minimization crucial;
- malignant and benign primary CNS tumors;
- advanced and/or unresectable H&N cancers;
- the paranasal sinuses and other accessory sinuses cancers;
- non-metastatic retroperitoneal sarcomas;
- and cases requiring re-irradiation.
Read the full study on Precision and Future Medicine 2019