The dose distributions that can be achieved with protons are usually superior to those of conventional photon external-beam radiation. There are special cases where proton therapy may offer a substantial potential benefit compared to photon treatments where toxicity concerns dominate. Re-irradiation may theoretically be made safer with proton therapy due to lower cumulative lifetime doses to sensitive tissues, such as the spinal cord. Proton therapy has been used in a limited number of patients with rectal, pancreatic, esophageal, and lung cancers. Chordomas and soft tissue sarcomas require particularly high radiation doses, posing additional challenges for re-irradiation. Lymphoma is another special case where proton therapy may be advantageous. Late toxicities from even relatively low radiation doses, including cardiac complications and second cancers, are of concern in lymphoma patients with high cure rates and long life expectancies. Proton therapy has begun to be used for consolidation after chemotherapy in patients with Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Breast cancer is another emerging area of proton therapy development and use. Proton therapy may offer advantages compared to other techniques in the setting of breast boosts, accelerated partial breast irradiation, and post-mastectomy radiotherapy. In these settings, proton therapy may decrease toxicity associated with breast radiotherapy. As techniques are refined in proton therapy, we may be able to improve the therapeutic ratio by maintaining the benefits of radiotherapy while better minimizing the risks.
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