Being diagnosed with cancer can be quite scary and very emotionally taxing. Luckily, treatments have been improving rapidly over the years, leading to better outcomes and more effective therapy options. One of these options is known as proton therapy, or proton beam therapy. This is a type of radiation therapy, and it allows physicians to more specifically target cancerous tissue to prevent healthy tissue from being destroyed. It can be used to treat many different types of cancers, and Medicare benefits often cover this treatment’s costs.
What is Proton Beam Therapy?
Normal radiation therapy treatments utilize x-ray radiation that travels in a straight line through the body, affecting each tissue it passes through. On the other hand, proton therapy uses protons instead of x-rays. Protons are molecules that are positively charged. This allows them to provide high amounts of energy, which can be harnessed and used to destroy cancerous cells to prevent them from spreading further in the body.
Proton therapy involves directing a beam of radiation from a machine placed outside of the body and delivering it through the skin and into the cancerous tissue. This treatment option is painless for the recipient, and it can be used by itself or in conjunction with other cancer treatments, such as x-ray radiation, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or surgical procedures.
The machine used during treatments is called either a synchrotron or cyclotron. It speeds up the protons to further increase their energy. The higher the speed, the more energy the protons contain, and the deeper into the body they can travel. This allows physicians to be very specific in targeting the specific depth and location of tumors. This prevents the radiation from traveling all the way through the body once it passes through the tumor, helping to preserve more of the healthy tissue surrounding it.
How Can Proton Beam Therapy Be Used?
Due to its ability to target cancerous tissue in specific areas of the body, proton therapy treatment works best on cancers that are solid and have well-defined borders. This allows oncologists to target each area of the cancer. Cancers that have already begun to spread throughout the body are not as commonly treated using this option.
Some of the cancers that are most commonly treated with proton beam radiation include cancers of the lungs, prostate, liver, and esophagus. Brain cancer is also often treated using this therapy because of the care and specificity needed to preserve brain tissue and prevent cognitive issues from occurring following treatment. However, the benefits of proton therapy do not just cover these areas of the body. It is largely up to you and your physician to determine the best course of action for any cancer diagnosis.
Proton therapy’s specificity is also one of the major reasons it is utilized so heavily when treating cancer in children. Children are still growing and developing rapidly, so it is important to retain as much healthy tissue as possible. Using proton therapy, especially for cancers of the brain and nervous system, helps to prevent developmental issues from occurring and can lead to a longer life expectancy for the child following remission.
Do Medicare Benefits Cover Proton Therapy?
Original Medicare covers most medically necessary radiation therapies used by patients who have been diagnosed with cancer. If treatments are being administered in an inpatient setting, such as a hospital, the treatments will be covered by Medicare Part A. In this case, you will be responsible for paying your annual Part A deductible and any coinsurance payments required. This payment is often a specific percentage that varies from person to person.
If proton therapy is being conducted in an outpatient facility, Medicare Part B may help cover the costs. Similar to Part A, you will be required to pay up to your annual deductible, and you may also be responsible for a copayment, which is a set cost for visiting a certain provider or attending a specific appointment.