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Proton Therapy

Radiation Oncology Associates (ROA) is the first and only provider of Proton Therapy in Northern Virginia, at the newly opened Inova Center for Advanced Radiation Oncology and Proton Therapy. Our physicians have extensive subspecialty expertise in a wide range of malignancies, and are all trained in the use of this groundbreaking technology.

What is Proton Therapy?

Proton Therapy is a highly advanced form of radiation therapy that treats tumors with high precision, conforming to the shape of the tumor and reducing the risk of side effects and damage to surrounding healthy tissues. Our cutting edge Proteus @PLUS system uses the most precise and ultra-fast Intensity Modulated Proton Therapy (IMPT) for adaptive proton therapy. It is also a world first for the use of Cone Beam CT (CBCT) to ensure accurate daily beam delivery, enhancing the ability to detect patient and tumor changes during a course of therapy.

How does it compare to standard radiation treatments?

The main difference between Proton Therapy and standard radiation is that protons have the unique property of delivering the majority of their energy or “dose” directly in the tumor, without going beyond it, into normal tissues. This special behavior allows tumors to receive more targeted doses, while reducing damage to the healthy tissues that surround the tumor, decreasing side effects. This can be seen in the image below, showing the benefits of proton therapy in the treatment of head and neck cancer. Similar to standard radiotherapy, Proton therapy is a painless outpatient treatment given daily over a series of weeks. Total appointment time is approximately one hour, but the actual Proton Therapy treatment is complete within minutes.

Inova Center for Advanced Radiation Oncology and Proton Therapy
The image above shows the difference in radiation dose between IMPT (Proton Therapy) and standard IMRT (x-rays, or photons). The final panel shows the dose difference between the two, with significantly less dose to the mouth (red circle), decreasing taste loss and pain.

Because of its unique ability to conform to the shape of the tumor while sparing normal tissues, Proton Therapy is recommended as an option for a number of cancer types, including:

  • Base-of-skull tumors
  • Brain tumors
  • Breast cancer
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) cancers
  • Head and neck tumors
  • Lung cancer
  • Lymphoma
  • Melanoma (cancer) of the eye
  • Pediatric cancers
  • Prostate cancer
  • Tumors near the spinal cord
  • Re-treatment (re-irradiation)

Pediatric cases can particularly benefit from the decreased dose to normal tissues with protons, decreasing the long-term risks of radiation therapy, and improving outcomes and quality of life for children as they grow into adulthood. In addition, patients that have previously received radiation therapy may have limited options for treatment, and can often be candidates for Proton Therapy. New data is emerging every day, expanding the number of tumors where protons can make a difference.

Proton Therapy provides the most benefit for patients with solid tumors near critical organs that have not yet spread to other areas of the body and children, for whom sparing excess radiation is critically important. Proton Therapy may also benefit patients who cannot tolerate any more X-ray radiation.

  • Patients whose tumors are near critical organs or structures, such as brain, heart, lungs, GI tract, spine and head and neck
  • Patients who also need chemotherapy
  • Patients whose cancers have recurred
  • Patients who cannot have any more X-ray radiation treatment and have reached their limit for traditional radiation
  • Pediatric patients

The types of tumors treated using proton therapy will continue to expand as research continues and care teams develop proton cancer treatment plans for more types of tumors. Proton therapy is not appropriate for all types of cancers or all patients. Only a healthcare provider can determine the best approach for each unique condition.

Since their bodies are still growing, children are more sensitive to healthy tissue damage caused by X-rays making proton therapy particularly beneficial to children. Clinical studies suggest that proton therapy reduces the risk of growth and developmental problems in children, as well as secondary tumors later in their lives. The picture below shows a child being treated for a cancer of the brain and spine.
Proton Therapy
The image above shows a comparison of standard (photon) therapy and Proton Therapy for a pediatric tumor of the brain and spine, called a medulloblastoma. Because Proton Therapy can “stop” inside a patient, there is much less dose to normal organs.

Do you have Proton Therapy clinical trials available?

Clinical trials are designed to test whether a new treatment is beneficial, and who might benefit. We have a number of open studies for Proton Therapy, with more opening all the time. All patients are entered into our Proton Therapy registry to track their outcomes. A dedicated clinical research support staff are available to assess patient eligibility and answer questions. Please be sure to ask your doctor if you are a candidate for a Proton Therapy clinical trial.

How can I find out if Proton Therapy is right for me?

Your specific diagnosis and other factors will help determine if you could benefit from proton therapy. When you call the Inova Center for Advanced Radiation Oncology and Proton Therapy, the intake specialist will ask you several questions regarding your medical history to determine if you are a good candidate for proton cancer treatment.

Our team will assist you in collecting the following documents and information before presenting your case to the physician review board for evaluation and consultation scheduling:

  • Your cancer diagnosis
  • Imaging or diagnostic records from your physician
  • Any prior cancer treatment you may have had
  • Pathology reports
  • Your current medications and any allergies
  • Operative reports
  • Lab reports
  • Insurance information
  • Availability for treatment
  • A physician’s referral for radiation therapy

At Inova Center for Advanced Radiation Oncology and Proton Therapy our radiation oncologists are leading experts in their field and we approach each unique patient’s case in a multidisciplinary fashion. By doing so a team of physician experts review each patient’s case and present you with the best course of treatment recommendations, which might include proton therapy and/or other modalities of treatment.

Contact Us

To discover if you or a loved one could benefit from proton therapy, please call us at (703) PROTONS, or (703) 776-8667.


1. Steneker M, Lomax A, Schneider U. Intensity modulated photon and proton therapy for the treatment of head and neck tumors. Radiother Oncol. 2006;80(2):263-267.

2. Chung CS, Keating N, Yock T, Tarbell N. Comparative analysis of second malignancy risk in patients treated with proton therapy versus conventional photon therapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008;72(1):S8.

3. Fowler JF. What can we expect from dose escalation using proton beams. Clin Oncol. 2003;15(1):S10-S14.

4. Zeitman AL, DeSilvio ML, Slater JD, et al. Comparison of conventional-dose vs high-dose conformal radiation therapy in clinically localized adenocarcinoma of the prostate [published correction appears in JAMA. 2008;299(8):898-899]. JAMA. 2005;294(10):1233-1239.

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