Cancer patients may one day be able to get their entire course of radiation therapy in less than a second rather than coming in for treatment over the course of several weeks—and researchers in the Abramson Cancer Center have taken the first steps toward making it a reality. In a new report published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, and Physics, researchers detail how they used proton radiation to generate the dosage needed to theoretically give a cancer patient their entire course of radiotherapy in one rapid treatment. It’s known as FLASH radiotherapy, and it’s an experimental paradigm that could change the world of oncology in the future. In this study, researchers also found FLASH demonstrated the same effect on tumors as traditional photon radiation while sparing healthy tissue due to the shorter exposure time.
“This is the first time anyone has published findings that demonstrate the feasibility of using protons rather than electrons to generate FLASH doses, with an accelerator currently used for clinical treatments,” says the study’s co-senior author James M. Metz, director of the Roberts Proton Therapy Center and chair of Radiation Oncology. The co-senior authors on the study are Constantinos Koumenis, the Richard H. Chamberlain Professor of Research Oncology, and Keith A. Cengel, an associate professor of radiation oncology, both in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
Metz notes that other research teams have generated similar doses using electrons, which do not penetrate deep enough into the body to be clinically useful as a cancer treatment for internal tumors. Other groups have tried the approach with conventional photons, but currently available treatment devices do not have the ability to generate the necessary dosage. This study shows that with technical modifications, the currently available accelerators for protons can achieve FLASH doses with the biologic effects today.
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