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Frequently Asked Questions about Proton Therapy

We know that you may have a lot of questions when it comes to proton therapy. On this page, we have compiled questions we get asked most from patients.

If you cannot find the answer you are looking for on this page, please call 410-369-5200 to speak directly with an MPTC staff member.

Proton Therapy Treatment FAQ’s

Proton therapy is a more refined form of radiation therapy that uses protons from hydrogen atoms rather than X-ray radiation or photons.

The practical difference between the two therapies is the distribution and absorption of the radiation. Conventional radiation passes entirely through the patient’s body, starting off strong and getting weaker and weaker as it passes through. Consequently, the radiation from conventional therapy is absorbed by the surrounding organs in the process, which causes varying side effects dependent on the area of the body where the tumor lies.

In contrast, proton therapy stops at the site of the tumor, so it terminates cancerous cells but spares the normal, healthy surrounding tissue. Due to the accuracy of the proton beam, side effects are may be lower, providing a higher quality of life for a patient throughout their treatment and limiting long-term side effects in the future.

As proton therapy is another form of radiation, all cancers responsive to conventional radiation will be able to be treated. This includes cancers and tumors in the breasts, brain, prostate, lungs, head and neck, base of the skull, spine, gastrointestinal, gynecologic malignancies and others.

Proton therapy is the ideal treatment for pediatric patients, since the targeted dosage of radiation avoids much of the nearby surrounding tissue. This limits the risk of future health conditions that can arise as a result of young patients being treated with photon radiation, which impacts more of the surrounding areas.

Not all cancers or clinical conditions require proton therapy. Our experts have experience in all radiation therapy modalities such as photon (x-ray) therapy, electrons and brachytherapy and will recommend the type of radiation or combination of radiation that is best for you.

Yes, all patients will be treated by the same physician for the full duration of their treatment.

If you need other therapies or services during your radiation therapy such as chemotherapy, blood work or imaging your physician team at MPTC can work with your oncologist or connect you with our experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

At MPTC we are happy to continue to work with your other doctors for combined care. Our physicians, nurses and nurse practitioners are experienced in working with physicians both in and out of state. If however you need a referral to another type of specialist we are also happy to connect patients to our experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

No, proton therapy is not experimental. Proton therapy treatment began in the mid-1950’s and was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1988. To date, over 100,000 people have received proton therapy as part of their cancer treatment in centers all over the United States and the world. Some types of cancers show improved results with proton therapy while others show similar results.

Physicians from the Maryland Proton Treatment Center have participated in many research studies demonstrating the efficacy of proton therapy. View of list of them here.

Proton therapy only causes hair loss if the treatment area bears hair. Unlike chemotherapy, which is a systemic treatment, forms of radiation like proton therapy only affect the specific area of the body being treated.
MPTC uses the Varian ProBeam® Proton Therapy System, which is one of the most advanced systems in the world. The specific form of radiation is called “pencil-beam scanning” or “intensity modulated proton therapy” (IMPT).

It uses a 90-ton cyclotron to accelerate protons to two thirds the speed of light, sending them down a beamline the length of football field and into one of five treatment rooms.

Four of five of our treatment rooms feature a rotational gantry. This hidden 3-story tall machine helps move the treatment nozzle up to 360 degrees into the precise position to deliver your treatment.

The beam is delivered without sound or pain in a matter of minutes with millimeter precision.

On any typical day, you may spend anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half with us while undergoing proton therapy. This entails getting checked in, changed, being called back to the treatment room, getting set up on a table, imaged and treated.
Typically, a proton therapy course of treatment lasts around 6 weeks, though the duration can be longer or shorter depending on the treatment requirements for each patient.

If you have received radiation to treat a past cancer, you may still be a candidate for proton therapy.

Because proton therapy offers precise tumor targeting, physicians can limit the amount of radiation that healthy tissues near the tumor receive. This means that physicians can treat tumors more aggressively, with higher doses of radiation, without higher risk.

If your tumor has grown back (recurrence), aggressive treatment is often the best course of action. Proton therapy puts radiation back on the table as a treatment option for recurrent tumors.

One of the primary indications for proton beam therapy is in patients who have had previous radiation therapy.

The idea that proton beams could play a role in treating cancer was proposed in 1946 by Dr. Robert Wilson, who is considered to be the “father of proton therapy”.

From the mid 1950’s on, proton treatment began for a limited number of cancers, with computing and treatment delivery technology advancing rapidly over the next 30 years.

By the 1980’s, these advancements made proton therapy a viable option for treating localized solid tumors in many areas of the body and proton treatment facilities began to open. Up until the last ~10 years however, proton therapy remained a scarce resource in our country with only certain types of tumors being treated. Over the last 10 years, more centers have opened and as a result a wider variety of cancers are now treated.

In 2016, the Maryland Proton Treatment Center opened as the first center in the region to offer proton therapy with the most advanced form of proton therapy in the world, called pencil beam scanning. We have treated over 2000 patients and counting with the most experienced team in the region.

Proton Therapy Cost FAQ’s

In our experience, around 85% of patients are approved for coverage by their insurance provider. Some private insurance companies cover proton therapy for specific disease sites (cancer types) or on a case-by-case basis. We will work on your behalf to obtain coverage including communicating the facts and clinical recommendation for proton therapy, providing comparative treatment plans and setting up physician-to-physician consultations between our team and your insurance provider when necessary.

Proton therapy is generally covered by Medicare (non-HMO). In many cases, patients covered by Medicare supplemental insurance often incur few net-out-of-pocket expenses for treatment after deductibles, copays/coinsurance, and annual maximum payments are met.

We also work with insurance providers from around the country.

If you have questions regarding billing, please email [email protected] and a team member will respond within two business days.

Maryland Proton Treatment Center FAQ’s

The Maryland Proton Treatment Center has intensity-modulated proton therapy (IMPT, also known as pencil-beam) available in each of our five state-of-the-art treatment rooms. This form of therapy provides the most accurate form of radiation therapy available. A more precise beam can also allow for higher doses of radiation which in some cancers can increase the overall efficacy of the treatment without increasing side effects for the patient.

Continuing the tradition of patient-centered care University of Maryland Medical Center has been practicing since its inception, we provide a comfortable and convenient treatment experience for our patients. Our concierge team will welcome and assist the patient from beginning to end of the treatment process.

Our expert team is made up of radiation oncologists, dosimetrists, medical physicists, nurses, nurse practitioners, radiation therapists, nutritionists, social workers, administrative and concierge staff. Please visit the Meet our Medical team page here to learn more!

Coming to Baltimore

Patients will receive free valet parking on every visit to MPTC. There is also a parking garage within one block of the center and on street parking available on the block.

For out-of-town patients, MPTC’s concierge service team offers navigation assistance to ensure distance is not an obstacle in choosing to undergo proton therapy at MPTC.

If you reside outside of the Baltimore area and will be commuting into the city for treatment, our concierge team will work with you to come up with a transportation plan to ensure you’ll have reliable transit to and from each treatment, which may include transportation provided by MPTC.

MPTC partners with a variety of hotels for discounted rates for patients and provides a list of accommodations and their amenities.

MPTC can also provide guidance on lodging at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge or the Ronald McDonald House in Baltimore.

Downtown Baltimore has many convenient dining options for patients. Use this directory to search nearby restaurants by cuisine type.


Patient Resources

Download Our Guide for Pediatric Patients
Download Our Guide for Patients
View Clinical Trials

Request a Consultation

Our team at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center is dedicated to helping you navigate your journey through treatment. After a cancer diagnosis, you may understandably have a lot of questions and we’re here to answer all of them.

To see if proton therapy is right for you, request a consultation by completing the form below. It should only take about 3 minutes to complete.

Once you complete the form, you will receive a call within two business days from our front desk (410-442-6486).