Head & Neck Cancers

Proton Therapy for Head & Neck Cancer Treatment

Fight Head & Neck Cancer with Laser-like Precision

California Protons’ intensity-modulated pencil beam scanning technology is a highly precise form of cancer radiation treatment that enables our doctors to selectively target tumors found in the sensitive and intricate head and neck region with high-dose radiation.

Pencil beam scanning technology treats head and neck tumors by delivering proton radiation with 2-millimeter accuracy. It attacks tumors layer by layer, wrapping around complex tumor shapes to minimize the amount of radiation given to healthy tissue and organs. This is important in the head and neck, as these tumors often require a high dose of radiation and are tucked away among vital structures, such as the brain, optic nerve, thyroid, salivary glands, esophagus, voice box, jawbone and spinal cord.

Proton Therapy for Head & Neck
Cancer Treatment Details

What We Treat

  • Recurrent head & neck cancers (previously treated)
  • Base of skull cancers
  • Larynx cancer (voice box)
  • Oral and mouth cancers
  • Throat cancer
  • Salivary gland cancer
  • Sinus cancer (nasopharyngeal)
  • Hypopharyngeal cancer
  • Oropharyngeal cancer
  • Tongue cancer
  • Tonsil cancer

What We Do

  • Reduce dose to normal structures such as the brain, optic nerve, thyroid, salivary glands, esophagus, voice box, jawbone, and spinal cord1
  • This normal tissue sparing may lead to fewer short-term side effects, faster recovery time, and decreased risk of needing a feeding tube2
  • Normal tissue sparing with protons may reduce the risk of jawbone injury3
  • In some cases, protons improve disease control and survival4, 5, 6
  • Lower the risk of secondary cancer due to radiation7

Benefits of Proton Therapy for Head & Neck Cancer

  • Our pencil beam scanning technology precisely controls proton beam energies and, in turn, the location of the maximum radiation delivery known as the Bragg peak. This allows us to treat more complex tumor shapes and vary the dose within the head & neck tumor.
  • Advanced proton therapy allows doctors to more selectively deliver high-dose radiation to many cancerous tumors, and reduce the dose to surrounding healthy tissue and critical organs. In some cases, this has been shown to deliver higher cure rates than X-ray radiation treatment even in some of the most challenging situations.
  • Because head & neck proton therapy can better limit radiation outside of the target, doctors may be able to reduce radiation to the healthy tissues responsible for sight, hearing, taste, ability to talk, eat and swallow and brain function.

Proton Treatment for Different
Types of Head & Neck Cancer


Head and neck tumors are located next to vital structures; unchecked tumor growth can be devastating. Depending on the stage of head, neck, throat, mouth or tongue cancer, combined treatments of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation may be needed for some tumors. Treatment options also are affected by the type and extent of cancer, patient’s overall health and personal preferences.

Oral cancers typically begin in the flat, thin cells that line your lips and the inside of your mouth, including your cheeks, roof and floor of your mouth. Proton therapy treatment for mouth cancer may reduce the radiation dose to non-target normal tissues when treating oral cavity tumors.

Throat cancer encompasses cancerous tumors that develop in your throat or tonsils. The number of patients experiencing severe weight loss or needing a feeding tube was reduced by almost 50% in the patients receiving proton therapy. And three months after treatment, proton therapy throat cancer patients also reported significantly less dry mouth.2

This type of oral cancer forms in the base or front of the tongue and usually develops in the thin, flat surface cells. These tumors typically require high doses of radiation. Proton therapy for tongue cancer may help prevent damage to your lips, salivary glands, jawbone, thyroid gland and spinal cord. In some cases, it may also decrease your risk of developing an impaired ability to taste, swallow, eat and talk.

Nasal cancers usually begin in the squamous cells that line the moist, mucosal surfaces inside the nose and sinus cavities. Proton therapy may better target tumors within these tight confines of your head and nasal structure because the eyes, mouth, brain and important nerves and blood vessels are usually located near the tumor. Greater radiation precision may also decrease your risk of sensory impairments, such as the ability to smell, taste, swallow and talk. In some cases, proton therapy improved disease control and survival in patients with para-nasal sinus tumors.4, 5, 6

Treatment for Recurrent
Head & Neck Cancer

Proton therapy is often the best way to treat recurrent tumors in areas that have previously been treated with radiation therapy.

Treating previously irradiated areas can be challenging, especially in the head and neck. A second round of X-ray radiation treatment could be too dangerous as the healthy tissues around the recurrent tumor do not fully “forget” the previous radiation dose. Unfortunately, any additional dose can increase the risk of normal tissue injury. Proton beam therapy, in this setting, may enable doctors to better concentrate the dose to the target and limit it elsewhere, which may allow re-treatment with radiation in select patients.

Head & Neck Treatment Outcomes
& Long-Term Effects

Proton therapy treatment for head and neck cancer at California Protons Cancer Therapy Center in San Diego may reduce the risk and/or severity of long-term side effects such as damage to vision, hearing and taste. Proton radiation may also lower the risk of secondary cancers, since there is less radiation delivered to healthy normal tissues. However, all head and neck cancer treatments have advantages and disadvantages, which vary based upon the patient’s unique circumstances. If you have been diagnosed with head or neck cancer, be sure to discuss all of the potential risks, as well as treatment options, with your oncologist.

Kasey Harvey
Proton therapy was a ‘game changer.’ Not a day goes by that I don’t think how fortunate we were to live six miles away from one of the best proton centers in the world. The entire staff is amazing. Compassionate, knowledgeable and the follow-up was incredible.
Father of Kasey Harvey
Pediatric Rhabdomyosarcoma Patient

Research Studies Supporting Proton Therapy for Head & Neck Cancer

About Proton Therapy

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