Frequently Asked Questions About Proton Beam Therapy

How do I contact the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center to have my case evaluated for proton therapy?
We encourage potential patients to seek referrals through their primary care provider (PCP) or local radiation oncology specialists. If these individuals are not familiar with proton therapy an inquiry line 617-724-1680 and e-mail address InformationRadOnc@partners.org can be used to directly seek specific contact information.

Do I need special approval from my insurance provider to receive proton therapy?
Pre-approval from your insurance provider is required since not all insurance providers cover proton radiation therapy. Many insurance providers will only cover proton therapy for specific diagnoses, therefore it’s important that your insurance provider cover the specific diagnosis being considered.

What are some of the side effects from proton therapy?
Side effects will depend on the patient’s age, medical history, diagnosis, disease size and location. Some patients may receive chemotherapy in conjunction with proton therapy; some will receive much lower radiation doses than others and therefore symptoms will vary significantly. Common symptoms include temporary hair loss and skin reactions in the direct path of the radiation. Fatigue is also associated with treatment to large areas.

Once accepted for proton therapy how do I find lodging and how do I coordinate transportation if I am from out of town or the country?
The Center provides resources to help patients and families find lodging. Some lodging is within walking distance to the Center while others require transportation. Subsidized housing may also be available. Some of the lodging options also provide transportation for hospital appointments.

How do I coordinate my proton treatment appointments?
The first few treatments are generally assigned based on available openings. At the time of the first few treatments you should inform the radiation therapists of any treatment time preferences. However, you should be aware that scheduling is often limited by technical factors such as the need to use specific configurations of the treatment machine. For example, one of the gantry rooms is needed to treat pediatric patients under anesthesia. A block of time is reserved in the morning when anesthesiologists and the appropriate equipment is available to treat these pediatric patients.  

How are treatments scheduled?
As is the nature of this advanced and highly sought-after treatment, we have many patients who present with extremely challenging and time-sensitive illnesses.  We prioritize patients based upon medical urgency and available resources.  Our current treatment day operates from approximately 7:30 AM to 5:30 PM, Monday through Friday, except for hospital holidays.  Your appointment will be scheduled during those hours.  You will be notified of your first treatment appointment time on the Friday before your start date.  We request you remain flexible with your availability for treatment.

Why does it take longer to treat me with the proton therapy compared to conventional radiation therapy?
In order to ensure a minimal amount of radiation to normal structures we conform the proton beam very tightly to the target. Diagnostic quality pre-treatment x-ray and ultrasound imaging allows us to keep the margins very tight. This level of imaging is generally not done for conventional therapy. The actual treatment time, when the radiation is turned on, is similar for proton therapy and conventional x-ray therapy.

Why do some patients receive both conventional x-ray therapy as well as proton therapy?
The Center provides a limited resource. Managing the potential benefits from proton therapy is done on an individual case basis. In some circumstances it is advantageous to combine these therapies just like it is sometime advantageous to combine radiation therapy with surgery and/or chemotherapy. The goal is to provide the optimal access to patients who would benefit from proton radiation therapy. With experience using both high-quality x-ray and proton therapy, our physicians are well equipped to determine the appropriate combination that is optimal for patient’s individual treatments.