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Proton therapy for the treatment of head and neck cancer

Fight head and neck cancer with laser-like precision

The intensity-modulated pencil beam scanning technology from California Protons is a highly precise form of cancer radiation with which our doctors can treat tumors in the sensitive and complicated head and neck area with high-dose radiation.

Pencil beam scanning technology treats head and neck tumors by delivering proton radiation with an accuracy of 2 millimeters. It attacks tumors layer by layer and wraps around complex tumor shapes to minimize radiation exposure to healthy tissues and organs. This is important for the head and neck as these tumors often require a high dose of radiation and are hidden between vital structures such as the brain, optic nerve, thyroid, salivary glands, esophagus, voicebox, jawbone and spinal cord.

Proton therapy for the head and neck
Cancer treatment details

What we treat

  • Recurrent head and neck cancers (previously treated)
  • Base of skull cancer
  • Larynx Cancer (Voice Box)
  • Mouth and mouth cancer
  • Throat cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Sinus cancer (nasopharyngeal)
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Tongue cancer
  • Almond cancer

What we do

  • Reduce the dose to normal structures such as the brain, optic nerve, thyroid, salivary glands, esophagus, voicebox, jawbone, and spinal cord1
  • This normal tissue sparing can lead to fewer short-term side effects, faster recovery time, and a reduced risk of needing a feeding tube2
  • Normal tissue that is spared with protons can reduce the risk of jawbone injury3
  • In some cases, protons improve disease control and survival4, 5, 6
  • Reduce the risk of secondary cancer from radiation7

Benefits of proton therapy for head and neck cancer

  • Our pencil beam scanning technology precisely controls the proton beam energies and thus the location of the maximum radiation emission, the so-called Bragg peak. This allows us to treat more complex forms of tumors and to vary the dose within the head and neck cancer.
  • The advanced proton therapy enables doctors to supply many cancer tumors more selectively with high-dose radiation and to reduce the dose to the surrounding healthy tissue and critical organs. In some cases, this has been shown to provide higher cure rates than x-ray exposure, even in some of the most difficult situations.
  • Because head and neck proton therapy can better limit radiation outside of the target, doctors may be able to reduce radiation to the healthy tissues responsible for seeing, hearing, tasting, speaking, eating and swallowing, and brain function.


Head and neck tumors are located next to vital structures; uncontrolled tumor growth can be devastating. Depending on the stage of head, neck, throat, mouth, or tongue cancer, some tumors may require combined treatments of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Treatment options are also influenced by the type and extent of the cancer, the general health of the patient, and personal preferences.

Oral cancer usually starts in the flat, thin cells that line your lips and the inside of your mouth, including your cheeks, roof, and the bottom of your mouth. Proton therapy for oral cancer can reduce the dose of radiation to non-targeted normal tissues in the treatment of tumors of the oral cavity.

Throat cancer includes cancerous tumors that develop in your throat or tonsils. The number of patients with severe weight loss or needing a feeding tube was reduced by nearly 50% in those receiving proton therapy. And three months after treatment, patients with proton therapy larynx cancer also reported significantly less dry mouth.2

This type of oral cancer forms in the base or in front of the tongue and usually develops in the thin, flat-surfaced cells. These tumors typically require high doses of radiation. Proton therapy for tongue cancer can help prevent damage to the lips, salivary glands, jawbones, thyroid, and spinal cord. In some cases, it can also reduce the risk of affecting the ability to taste, swallow, eat, and speak.

Nasal cancer usually starts in the squamous cells that line the moist surfaces of the lining of the nose and sinuses. Proton therapy can better target tumors within those narrow confines of your head and nasal structure because the eyes, mouth, brain, and important nerves and blood vessels are usually located near the tumor. A higher radiation accuracy can also reduce the risk of sensory impairment, e.g. B. the ability to smell, taste, swallow and speak. In some cases, proton therapy improved disease control and survival in patients with sinus tumors.4, 5, 6

Treatment for recurring
Head and neck cancer

Proton therapy is often the best way to treat recurrent tumors in areas that were previously treated with radiation therapy.

Treating previously irradiated areas can be challenging, especially in the head and neck area. A second round of X-ray exposure could be too dangerous, as the healthy tissue around the recurring tumor does not completely “forget” the previous radiation dose. Unfortunately, any additional dose can increase the risk of normal tissue injury. Proton beam therapy in this setting can allow clinicians to better focus the dose on the target and limit it elsewhere, which can enable re-irradiation in selected patients.

Results of the head and neck treatment
& Long-term effects

Proton therapy for head and neck cancer at the California Protons Cancer Therapy Center in San Diego can reduce the risk and / or severity of long-term side effects such as damage to eyesight, hearing, and taste. Proton radiation can also lower the risk of secondary cancer because less radiation is released to healthy normal tissue. However, all head and neck cancer treatments have advantages and disadvantages that vary depending on the patient's particular circumstances. If you have been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, discuss all potential risks and treatment options with your oncologist.

Proton therapy was a "game changer". Not a day goes by that I don't believe how lucky we were to live six miles from one of the best proton centers in the world. All the staff are amazing. Compassionate, knowledgeable and the follow up was amazing.
Pediatric rhabdomyosarcoma patient

About proton therapy