Proton Therapy for Head and Neck Cancers

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Targeting Cancers of the Head and Neck at Scripps

Your head and neck are home to some of your body’s most intricate and sensitive organs and tissues, and tumors in these areas must be treated with expert precision and the utmost care. These tumors typically require a high dose of radiation, but because they are tucked away among vital, highly sensitive structures — such as the brain, optic nerve, thyroid, salivary glands and jawbone — accurately targeting them is extremely important for several reasons:

  • Radiation to healthy tissues around cancer tumors in the head or neck can affect your sight, hearing, taste, swallowing, ability to eat, appearance and even brain function — possibly permanently.
  • These tumors are located next to vital structures; unchecked tumor growth can lead to devastating disabilities and death.
  • If cancer comes back after radiation therapy, a second round of treatment with X-ray radiation may be too risky.

Head & Neck Cancers Treated

Learn more about the types of head and neck cancers treated at Scripps Proton Therapy Center, including:

Treatment for Head & Neck Cancer


About Proton Therapy

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Why Choose Scripps

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From diagnosis and treatment to navigation and support, Scripps offers comprehensive cancer care. Learn how proton therapy further complements these services.

The benefits of proton therapy for head and neck cancers

Proton therapy is an extremely precise form of radiation treatment that enables us to target cancerous cells within the intricate areas of the head and neck. Because protons deposit their maximum energy directly in the tumor, exposure to your fragile healthy tissues is greatly reduced.

  • Advanced proton therapy allows doctors to more selectively place high-dose radiation on your tumor, while simultaneously reducing the dose to your surrounding critical organs. This has been shown to deliver higher cure rates than X-ray radiation treatment even with some of the most difficult tumor types.
  • Many studies have shown an increased rate of secondary cancer in surrounding areas in patients who receive X-ray radiation therapy. Because proton therapy lowers the dose to normal tissue, studies predict a lower risk of secondary cancer with this treatment.
  • Scripps Proton Therapy Center’s precisely targeted pencil-beam scanning technique (IMPT) further reduces the amount of radiation to surrounding tissues, even when compared with conventional passively scattered protons. The radiation dose from pencil-beam scanning that extends beyond the target has been shown to be substantially less than passively scattered protons and intensity-modulated X-ray therapy (IMRT).
  • Because proton therapy can better concentrate its radiation dose to the target and limit it elsewhere, it is ideally suited for treating recurrent tumors in areas that have previously been treated with radiation therapy. Treating previously radiated areas is challenging and very risky with any radiation therapy. Tissues around the recurrent tumor don’t “forget” the previous radiation dose, and any added dose continues to increase the risk of normal tissue injury. By reducing the radiation dose given to these previously treated tissues, protons can help to reduce, but not eliminate, some of the risks associated with re-irradiation.

Types of head and neck cancer treated

We treat the following types of head and neck cancer with proton therapy:

See the evidence supporting proton therapy treatment for head and neck cancers.

Support services

When you are living with cancer, you may need more than expert medical treatment. Our staff is here to help you and your family every step of the way, from scheduling appointments and answering questions to finding support services and other resources.

We offer a wide variety of services to help speed your recovery from head and neck cancer treatment, including:

Proton therapy is a highly precise form of external radiation therapy that can be used for tumor control in select patients. All cancer treatments have advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to discuss these, as well as your treatment options, with your cancer specialist.

Proton therapy for head and neck cancer research