MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center

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The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center uses innovative technology to effectively treat head and neck cancers and tumors, especially ones that are complex and located near vital organs and tissue – like tongue cancer, mouth or oral cancer, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, eye cancer and others. Patients undergoing proton therapy treatment have fewer side effects than those receiving chemotherapy or traditional radiation.

Advantages of proton therapy for head and neck cancer treatment:

  • No irradiation of whole head
  • Reduced damage to eyes, optic nerve, spinal cord, salivary glands and other tissue and organs near the tumor
  • Fewer side effects such as dry mouth or mouth ulcers
  • Decreased chance for loss of taste
  • Decreased need for feeding tubes
  • Decreased need for gastrostomy tubes
  • Non-invasive treatment

Cancers we treat

Head and neck cancers can be complex and must be treated delicately yet aggressively for effectiveness. With proton therapy technology, we can deliver the high doses of radiation needed to treat the tumor, while protecting nearby healthy structures, to prevent neurological deficits, intellectual impairment, blindness, and other side effects. For this reason, proton therapy has become an important tool in the fight against cancer.

At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we can treat head and neck cancers located within or near the:

  • Oropharynx, including the tonsils
    and base of tongue
  • Periorbital
  • Parotid
  • Nasopharynx
  • Paranasal sinus
  • Oral cavity
  • Larynx
  • Skin
  • Base of skull
  • Nasal cavity
  • Submandibular gland
  • Minor salivary gland

How it works

Proton Therapy Center

In order to protect vital organs and tissue during treatment of head and neck cancer and tumors, precision is key.

Our cancer experts can deliver a higher dose of radiation with pinpoint accuracy to target the specific shape, size and location of the tumor. This targeting reduces damage to eyes, optic nerve, spinal cord, salivary glands and other tissue and organs near the tumor.

Intensity modulated proton therapy, or IMPT, is especially well suited for patients with the most complicated tumors of the head and neck, precisely painting the protons onto the tumor layer by layer. In this way, the treatment team can confine the majority of the tumor-damaging energy to target areas and work to protect normal structures, such as the oral cavity and brainstem.

What to expect

The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center's world-renowned team of radiation oncologists, nurses, therapists, social workers and other cancer specialists is dedicated to providing you the best experience possible. We also have the world's first proton therapy facility located within a comprehensive cancer center, designed to help ensure your optimum treatment plan.

Treatment is delivered in a comfortable outpatient setting. The actual treatment is non-invasive, painless and typically has no impact on your energy level, so you can get right back to doing the things you love. Patients may feel some temporary discomfort over the affected area after treatment.

Treatment varies for each patient, but most are treated daily, Monday through Friday, for eight weeks. Each treatment typically takes about 15 to 30 minutes. Head and neck patients should expect to have a mask created to help them keep their head, neck and shoulders in the same position during treatment.

Potential side effects:

Each type of cancer treatment can change the way the patient looks, talks, eats or breathes. Therefore, it is important to preserve the quality of life of patients so they can return to normal activities as soon as possible.

With proton therapy, side effects such as nausea, damage to salivary glands, and loss of taste are reduced, enabling patients to better maintain their weight and hydration. As a result, patients have successful treatment outcomes and substantially improve their quality of life both during and after cancer treatment.

Additionally, patients may avoid the need for a feeding tube during head and neck cancer treatment, which can occur in up to 60% of standard radiation patients.

When treating head and neck cancers, a diverse team of oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, dental oncologist, and others with special training collaborates to support your needs after cancer.

Patient stories

Randy Smith

Meet Randy Smith.

In June 2016, Randy Smith began noticing a very slight swollen lymph node that wouldn’t go away after several weeks. His doctor ran several tests and in late July 2016, Randy was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer.

After his doctor recommended regular radiation to treat his cancer, Randy began to do his own research. “I had to figure out quickly the best treatment for me,” Randy recalls.

Randy discovered proton therapy was able to precisely target his tumor while sparing surrounding healthy tissue and organs such as his brain, mouth and eyes. He began treatment and ultimately received a total of 35 treatments at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.

Today, he is back to his active lifestyle. He and his wife, Honey, own and operate a Culver’s Restaurant in Navarre, Florida. After completing his treatment and a brief recovery period, Randy and his family opened their second Culver’s Restaurant in Destin, Florida. When he is not tending to his business, Randy enjoys going hunting and fishing.

Read real stories from MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center patients.

Clinical trials

The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center uses clinical trials to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, including all forms of head and neck cancer, like tongue cancer, mouth or oral cancer, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, eye cancer and others.

Learn about the clinical trials offered by our proton therapy center or browse our list of clinical trials.

Scientific evidence

If you'd like to read more about the effectiveness of proton therapy, please visit the sites below. You will find information on the effectiveness of conventional radiation versus proton treatments, including side effects and outcomes.

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  3. Fitzek MM, Thornton AF, Varvares M, et al. Neuroendocrine tumors of the sinonasal tract. Results of a prospective study incorporating chemotherapy, surgery, and combined proton-photon radiotherapy. Cancer. 2002;94:2623–2634.
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