recent study comparing the outcomes of proton therapy and intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), a type of traditional radiation treatment, for head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC) found protons to be associated with superior outcomes. This study is the first and largest to compare the detailed oncologic outcomes of proton therapy and IMRT for HNSCC patients, including overall survival, cancer-specific survival, locoregional recurrence, and distant metastasis. 

Head and neck cancer refers to a group of cancers that occur in the mouth, throat, nasal cavity, or salivary glands. These cancers can affect critical functions like swallowing, speaking, and breathing, making them particularly challenging to treat. Common risk factors for head and neck cancer include tobacco and alcohol use, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, and a family history of the disease.

The study identified a total of 60,485 patients diagnosed with HNSCC between 2015 and 2019 who underwent either standard IMRT (60,209 patients) or proton therapy (276 patients). After performing propensity score matching, 982 patients (735 in IMRT group and 247 in proton group) were eligible for further analysis.

After carefully evaluating the oncologic outcomes of proton therapy and IMRT for patients with HNSCC, the study indicated that proton therapy may be associated with improved overall survival, cancer-specific survival, and fewer occurrences of locoregional recurrence. The findings suggest that proton therapy has significant therapeutic advantages compared to IMRT in treating HNSCC. 

Specifically, the study found a 56% reduction in cancer related deaths and a 39% reduction in local or regional cancer recurrence for patients treated with protons versus those treated with IMRT.

The findings of this study provide valuable evidence for clinicians and patients in making informed decisions regarding the choice of radiation therapy for HNSCC. The results suggest that proton therapy may be a better treatment option than IMRT for head and neck patients undergoing curative radiation therapy. Other studies, including results from a major prospective randomized trial being led by MD Anderson, are expected to be published in 2024.

“We know that with proton therapy we almost always deliver less radiation to healthy tissue than with even the best traditional radiation treatments such as IMRT,” said Dr. John Chang, Medical Director of the Oklahoma Proton Center. “This study documents the marked improvement that can lead to in terms of reducing cancer recurrence and increasing survival.”

OKC Proton Building Exterior

Oklahoma Proton Center is one of the leading proton centers in the country, having treated over 5,000 patients since opening in 2009. Patients from all over the region have traveled there for treatment for cancers such as lung, prostate, breast, brain, esophageal, liver, soft tissue, head and neck, and more.

“Our goal is to obviously provide the best clinical care possible for patients, but we also want patients to have an excellent experience during treatment. We want patients to get that personalized care where they truly feel like they are the most important person at the facility while they are going through treatment,” said David Raubach, Chief Development Officer at Oklahoma Proton Center.

Patients or others wanting more information about proton therapy and how it can be used to treat head and neck cancer can reach out to Oklahoma Proton Center at (405) 773-7600 or visit the Oklahoma Proton Center website at www.okcproton.com.

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