The Froedtert & MCW Health Network — A Trusted, Recognized Place to Receive Advanced Radiation Therapy
In 2025, proton therapy arrives at the Clinical Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital campus. Bringing proton therapy to our patients will add to the many precise technologies we offer to effectively treat cancer. Adults and children will no longer have to travel out of state for proton therapy, reducing barriers to getting advanced treatment, such as the cost of travel.
Proton therapy requires an extensive and experienced radiation oncology team. Ours has decades of clinical experience and has led or collaborated in numerous clinical trials that involve innovative radiation therapy technologies and treatments.
Our radiation oncologists and physicists have helped develop other new technologies that deliver more precise and personalized radiation therapy. They were part of a global team that helped bring the groundbreaking Unity MR-linac into standard patient treatment.
We offer the largest cancer clinical trials treatment program in Wisconsin. Proton therapy’s arrival in 2025 will open the door to even more clinical trials, including trials that are only available through our Cancer Network. This will mean more treatment options for our patients.
We will offer proton therapy at our Froedtert Hospital campus, part of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus — just off U.S. highway 41 South and easily accessible from many parts of the state. We share the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center campus with Children’s Wisconsin, one of the nation’s top pediatric facilities.
Facilities like Kathy’s House and the Ronald McDonald House are conveniently located nearby, and will offer family-friendly resources and accommodations.
What Is Proton Therapy Cancer Treatment?
Proton therapy is a type of external beam radiation therapy. Instead of using X-rays (also called photons) like standard forms of radiation therapy, proton therapy uses proton particles to target and treat tumors. These particles can destroy cancer cells.
Proton therapy is a proven radiation treatment that has been well studied and tested. It is backed by more than 800 clinical trials and is safe and effective. The technology went through a rigorous process with the FDA and has been approved for cancer patient treatment for many years.
How Proton Therapy Works
With proton therapy, a high-energy dose of radiation can be targeted precisely to the depth as well as the shape of your tumor. That makes it different from standard radiation, which continues to deposit radiation in tissues that extend beyond the tumor, which is often called the exit dose. Proton therapy delivers radiation where it needs to go and stops — avoiding harm to sensitive organs and healthy tissues beyond the tumor.
How Proton Therapy Differs From Other Radiation Cancer Treatments
Radiation therapy can use proton particles or X-ray beams. Both types destroy cancer cells by delivering a dose of radiation to the tumor. Both aim to minimize radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissues and organs.
Traditional radiation delivers X-rays to the tumor and a low radiation dose to tissues or organs beyond the treated tumor. By contrast, proton therapy delivers a beam of proton particles that stops at the tumor, so it is less likely to damage immediately adjacent healthy tissues or organs.
Types of Cancer Treated by Proton Therapy
Proton therapy can treat many types of cancer. It is especially suitable for cancers that lie near sensitive nerves and organs that could make treatment with other types of radiation therapy too risky.
- Brain tumors
- Spinal cord tumors
- Head and neck cancers
- Skull-base tumors
- Tumors that come back and need repeat courses of radiation therapy
- Pediatric cancers
- Breast cancer
- Cancers in the chest (thoracic) such as thymoma, mesothelioma and lymphoma
- Lung cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Liver cancer and metastatic tumors of the liver
- Pancreatic cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Sarcomas, including rhabdomyosarcoma
Benefits of Proton Therapy
Proton therapy will expand on our available imaged-guided and adaptive radiation technologies to treat cancer, which includes Unity MR-linac, Leksell Gamma Knife® and RadiXact™ to name a few. Among the benefits of proton therapy:
- Effective in treating cancer in adults and children
- Results in increased survival rates and improved during- and post-treatment quality of life for many types of cancer.
- Deposits the majority of the radiation dose directly into the tumor for maximum cancer-fighting ability
- Delivers less radiation to healthy tissues and organs near the tumor resulting in a reduction in short- and long-term side effects
- Decreases unplanned hospitalization due to treatment-related complications
- Can treat many cancers, including brain and spine tumors, head and neck, and skull-base tumors.
- Can be combined with other types of treatment like chemotherapy and surgery
- Reduces the risk of developing a secondary cancer linked to initial radiation therapy
- Preserves cognitive abilities and functions like memory, word finding and dexterity when used to treat cancers of the central nervous system
- Can be used for re-treatment if cancer appears in an area previously treated with radiation therapy
Disadvantages of Proton Therapy
- The time it takes to plan proton therapy can be longer than for other types of radiation therapy.
- As with other types of radiation therapy, side effects like fatigue, skin irritation and hair loss can happen with proton therapy.
- Proton therapy is recommended for many but not all types of cancer.
- Proton therapy may cost more than other forms of radiation therapy.
Frequently Asked Questions About Proton Therapy
Is proton therapy safer than radiation therapy delivered with X-rays?
Both types of radiation therapy are proven techniques to treat cancer. Because proton therapy uses proton particles that deliver most of the radiation energy only to the tumor, people frequently experience fewer side effects and complications with proton therapy.
What are the side effects of proton beam therapy?
Common, but temporary, side effects of proton therapy include hair loss, skin irritation in the area treated and fatigue. These are the same side effects as radiation cancer therapy delivered by X-ray beams.
What is the success rate of proton therapy in cancer patients?
Proton therapy is as effective as other types of radiation therapy in treating cancer and extending survival.
Is proton therapy cancer treatment covered by insurance?
Proton therapy has been approved by the FDA for decades. It is not experimental, so many insurance providers — including Medicare — will cover proton therapy. Coverage can vary, however, depending on factors such as:
- Tumor type and location
- Cost of your therapy
- Facility where you receive it
- Where you get proton therapy
Is proton therapy better than other types of radiation therapy?
Proton therapy is one type of radiation technology. Its effectiveness is equal to that of traditional radiation therapy that uses photons rather than proton particles. Proton therapy may be the best choice — or doctors may recommend a different type of radiation therapy technology that is better suited to treat a specific individual’s cancer. The Froedtert & MCW Cancer Network offers a number of highly effective, advanced radiation technologies, including Unity MR-Linac, RadiXact and Leksell Gamma Knife, to name a few.