Proton beam treatment works by bombarding the tumor with a stream of high-speed protons that kill the tumor cells.
The treatment is designed to target only the affected area, thus reducing collateral damage to the tissue surrounding the tumor. The tricky part is making sure that the protons hit their mark.
The protons are only effective when they hit the tumor at certain target points and at a certain power level.
Individual tissues and bone density vary between individuals, and if patients lose or gain weight in between treatments, the position of the tumor can change enough to affect the treatment. Thus, it is not easy to confirm that the proton beam hit the target as intended and the damage to surrounding tissue has been minimized.
Grogg and her colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital hope to use complementary imaging techniques to make the proton treatments more precise. “We want to make sure that we are putting the protons exactly where they are supposed to be,” she explains.