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Breast Cancer Treatment Overview

As the only National Cancer Institute-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Georgia, Winship is at the forefront in the treatment of breast cancers.  Our staff conduct innovative research and clinical trials that transform how these cancers are identified, treated, and survived.

The radiation oncologists at Emory Proton Therapy Center work with the multidisciplinary Emory Breast cancer team at Winship, which includes experts in surgical oncology, plastic and reconstructive surgery, breast medical oncology, breast radiology, pathology, medical genetics, supportive oncology, dieticians, social workers, physical therapy, and cancer rehabilitation. Your radiation oncologist will work closely with these and other specialists to customize your breast cancer radiation treatment plan and coordinate your care. We can also partner and coordinate with a patient’s existing care team, whether they are across town or around the world.

Proton Therapy for Breast Cancer

A breast cancer diagnosis can be one of the biggest challenges you and your family will ever face. Our team is dedicated to helping you meet that challenge through supportive care using the most advanced treatments available. Proton therapy for breast cancer may be a more precise radiation option for treatment of your cancer to help protect the function of important nearby organs like the heart and lungs, as well as reduce the risk of developing a future cancer. Our breast cancer specialists will work with you to develop a personalized breast cancer radiation treatment plan that aims for fewer side effects and improved quality of life.

What We Treat

  • Ductal carcinoma in-situ (DCIS), a non-invasive breast cancer
  • Invasive ductal carcinoma
  • Invasive lobular carcinoma
  • Triple-negative breast cancer
  • Inflammatory breast cancer
  • Recurrent breast cancer
  • Angiosarcoma
  • Re-irradiation

Comparison of Proton and X-Ray Therapy

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is an extremely precise form of radiation treatment that can often better focus the radiation to match the shape and depth of the target. After treating the target, protons stop, avoiding exit dose radiation through the body. By reducing or avoiding radiation to sensitive normal healthy tissues and organs, proton therapy may reduce some of the side effects that can occur as a result of radiation treatments.

X-Ray Therapy

X-ray based radiation typically requires more beams or angles to deliver the radiation to the target. Unlike proton therapy where the radiation stops at the target, x-rays continue to deliver radiation as they exit through the body. As a result, x-ray based treatments typically result in increased radiation to normal healthy tissues and organs.

Proton Therapy Spares Radiation to the Heart

Proton Therapy Diagram
Proton Therapy
X-Ray Therapy Unnecessary Radiation
X-Ray Therapy

Benefits of Proton Therapy

In treatment of breast cancers, proton therapy can reduce or avoid radiation to surrounding healthy tissue and organs.

Depending on the tumor location and type, proton therapy for breast cancer may achieve the following benefits:

  • Reduced risk of inflammation of the heart (pericarditis) and future heart problems like hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), stiffening of the heart muscle (fibrosis, cardiomyopathy), and heart attacks.
  •  Reduced risk of inflammation of the lungs (radiation pneumonitis), and problems with lung function (lung fibrosis).
  • Reduced risk of difficulty or pain with swallowing (dysphagia or odynophagia) or chronic narrowing of the esophagus (stricture).
  • Reduced radiation to the bone marrow and circulating lymphocytes, which may help support the function of the immune system in fighting cancer.
  • Reduced risk of developing a future second tumor or cancer, which is most relevant in younger patients, those with a good prognosis and a long life expectancy, and those patients who may have genetic conditions putting them at higher risk for developing other cancers.

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What to Expect With Proton Therapy

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Proton therapy is typically delivered once daily during weekdays, Monday through Friday. Most patients with breast cancer receive five to six weeks of daily radiation. Some patients may be eligible for shorter treatment courses that span over one to three weeks. Proton therapy is most often integrated with surgery, chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, immunotherapy, or other cancer treatments as part of a comprehensive plan of care.

Like other types of radiation, proton therapy treatments are invisible and painless. Most breast tumor treatments average 30 minutes each day in the treatment room.

Patients are seen by the radiation oncology physician team weekly during treatment to monitor progress, answer questions, address concerns, and manage any side effects from treatment. Your breast cancer radiation oncologist will discuss a plan to assess response to treatment and for long-term follow-up after therapy.

Studies on Proton Therapy in Breast Cancer

Our team has identified these studies as examples of the clinical benefits of proton therapy in breast cancer.

Patient Stories