Proton Therapy Using Laser Flashes for Cancer

Radiation therapy with X-rays is nowadays one of the mainstream therapies for cancer. 

It is used in breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other localized tumors. 

However, we are aware of this therapy’s side effects on the skin and adjacent tissue. 

Can we find an alternative to radiation that does not damage healthy tissue?

With the current advances in science, this alternative is already being used. 

It is known as proton laser therapy, but it is not available everywhere. 

It uses a proton beam instead of X-rays. But why is it so difficult to find, and what alternatives do we have?

Recent studies have found a new technology that will make proton laser therapy more available. 

It is known as laser flashes, and after reading this article, you will have an insight into how it works.

What are laser flashes?

Laser flashes are a new technology that creates a proton beam for cancer treatment. Proton laser therapy works similarly to radiotherapy. 

But it has many advantages because, unlike X-rays, protons affect cancer without much damage to the healthy tissue. Thus, proton laser therapy is more likely to leave healthy tissues intact.

But what is proton therapy? Is it available now?

Proton therapy is a treatment option for localized cancer. Instead of using X-rays, it uses a proton beam. 

Protons are the positive-charged particles we can find in the nucleus of an atom. They move freely in nature and within specialized machines called particle accelerators. 

These advanced machines take up much space. They do the work of creating proton beams by moving these particles in a given direction.

Proton cancer therapy is available now but currently requires using one of these accelerators. They are not everywhere and cannot be transported, making it very unlikely for cancer patients to get proton cancer therapy as a suitable option.

On the other hand, a laser is a wave with a strong force focused on a single point. It has the property of changing how particles interact and moves particles around. 

So, laser flashes are basically a technology that uses a laser instead of particle accelerators to create a proton beam. Laser firing moves protons, directing them into cancer cells.

How do they work for cancer?

Proton laser therapy using laser flashes would make this technology available for more cancer patients. 

Currently, most patients seeking proton cancer therapy need to travel to another country. 

Only a few centers in the world have this proton beam technology. Laser flashes will use a portable device to make this therapy available to the broad public.

But does proton therapy work? It does, and it is a safe and effective alternative to radiation. 

As mentioned above, protons are charged positively. When they travel through cancer tissue, negatively-charged electrons are dragged along. 

This changes the configuration of molecules, damaging proteins and DNA. It is like a very potent free radical damage focused in the area where cancer is located.

The surrounding tissue is affected too, but healthy tissue and cancer have a few differences. Cancer can’t heal from this type of damage. When it does, it is a very slow and insufficient healing process. 

Instead, the healthy tissue has intact genetic machinery. The body detects the damage and replaces the tissue. Ultimately, only the tumor will be affected, and most surrounding organs will stay intact (1).

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Side effects and risks

Proton laser therapy has been tested in thousands of patients with excellent tolerability. Proton therapy patients do not experience as many side effects as radiotherapy users. 

Moreover, proton therapy side effects are not expected to be as severe, and longevity measures are not affected. 

The list of side effects and risks is similar to radiotherapy. However, they are usually mild or less likely to show up:

  • Skin redness
  • Body aches and soreness
  • Hair loss in the treated area
  • Fatigue

A recent study evaluated proton cancer therapy in 1,483 adult patients with localized cancer. Their tumors were located in different parts of the body. 

They all received chemotherapy and radiation in the past. This time, 400 of them went through proton therapy while the rest continued with radiotherapy. 

As time went by, the difference was made noticeable. After 90 days, the patients in both groups were evaluated. 

Only 12% of patients receiving proton therapy reported severe side effects. The radiotherapy group reported a 28% incidence of severe side effects.

Proton therapy rarely affects the patient’s ability to go through their routine and day-to-day activities. This is a common side effect of conventional radiotherapy. Their performance scores were not affected by it, and they reported more satisfaction with the treatment.

More studies can be warranted to know the long-term side effects of proton therapy. Moreover, the research study mentioned above didn’t include many head and neck cancer patients. Thus, this is a promising treatment option for different types of localized cancer, but safety concerns are still under research (2).

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What are the benefits?

To balance the pros and cons of proton laser therapy, let us talk about the benefits, too.

  • The side effects of proton radiation therapy are fewer and usually not as severe.
  • It can be used in adult patients and children.
  • It is a precise technique that targets cancer cells with minimal damage to the surrounding organs and tissues.
  • The risk of secondary tumors after radiotherapy is reduced.
  • Patients with recurrent tumors or central nervous system cancers can use this technology more safely.
  • As the risks decrease, it is possible to use higher treatment doses.
  • Quality of life improvements without reducing the success rate.
  • The technology of laser flashes has the extra benefit of being more accessible for patients worldwide.

Safety and effectiveness

The success rate of proton therapy vs radiation is very similar. In the research study mentioned above, follow-ups were continued after three years. 

By that time, 46% of proton therapy patients had a complete resolution of cancer. The proportion was similar in the traditional radiation group, with 49%. 

Proton laser therapy would make this effective and safe method more readily available by introducing laser flashes technology. Instead of a big particle accelerator, we will be able to use a smaller device to create a proton beam.

A recent research study has found a way to use customized laser flashes to generate proton pulses and direct them to the tumor. 

Previous studies had problems because the pulse was not strong or the intensity was variable. This new study achieved a more precise laser shape, allowing for more stable results.

Laser flashes technology is still under research in the field of proton therapy. The effectiveness needs to be addressed in animal models and preclinical stages before reaching the public. 

But it is an exciting approach to addressing central nervous system cancers and making proton therapy available to a broader public (3).

Conclusion

Laser flashes is the name of a new technology applied to the field of proton radiation. Proton laser therapy is one of the most advanced cancer treatment techniques. 

It is similar to radiotherapy but uses proton radiation instead of X-rays. In doing so, this alternative to radiation has similar effectiveness and fewer adverse events.

Laser flashes would make this technology available to a broader public. It is under research, and recent pre-clinical trials show stable and promising results. 

So far, the only way to get proton therapy is through specialized centers with particle accelerators. But this is deemed to change as laser flashes research advances.

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Sources

  1. Mohan, R., & Grosshans, D. (2017). Proton therapy–present and future. Advanced drug delivery reviews, 109, 26-44. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27919760/ 
  2. Baumann, B. C., Mitra, N., Harton, J. G., Xiao, Y., Wojcieszynski, A. P., Gabriel, P. E., … & Metz, J. M. (2020). Comparative effectiveness of proton vs photon therapy as part of concurrent chemoradiotherapy for locally advanced cancer. JAMA oncology, 6(2), 237-246. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31876914/ 
  3. Kroll, F., Brack, F. E., Bernert, C., Bock, S., Bodenstein, E., Brüchner, K., … & Beyreuther, E. (2022). Tumour irradiation in mice with a laser-accelerated proton beam. Nature Physics, 18(3), 316-322. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41567-022-01520-3 

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