Proton radiation therapy for head and neck cancer: a review of the clinical experience to date

Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2014 Jun 1;89(2):292-302. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2014.02.029. Epub 2014 May 5.


Proton beam radiation has been used for cancer treatment since the 1950s, but recent increasing interest in this form of therapy and the construction of hospital-based and clinic-based facilities for its delivery have greatly increased both the number of patients and the variety of tumors being treated with proton therapy. The mass of proton particles and their unique physical properties (ie, the Bragg peak) allow proton therapy to spare normal tissues distal to the tumor target from incidental irradiation. Initial observations show that proton therapy is particularly useful for treating tumors in challenging locations close to nontarget critical structures. Specifically, improvements in local control outcomes for patients with chordoma, chonodrosarcoma, and tumors in the sinonasal regions have been reported in series using proton. Improved local control and survival outcomes for patients with cancer of the head and neck region have also been seen with the advent of improvements in better imaging and multimodality therapy comprising surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. However, aggressive local therapy in the proximity of critical normal structures to tumors in the head and neck region may produce debilitating early and late toxic effects. Great interest has been expressed in evaluating whether proton therapy can improve outcomes, especially early and late toxicity, when used in the treatment of head and neck malignancies. This review summarizes the progress made to date in addressing this question.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Chondrosarcoma / radiotherapy
  • Chordoma / radiotherapy
  • Forecasting
  • Head and Neck Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Humans
  • Nasopharyngeal Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Nose Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Organs at Risk
  • Oropharyngeal Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Proton Therapy / adverse effects
  • Proton Therapy / methods*
  • Proton Therapy / trends
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / adverse effects
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / methods*
  • Radiotherapy, Intensity-Modulated / trends
  • Skull Base Neoplasms / radiotherapy