Proton Therapy May Offer Help for Chronic Pain

While best known as a relatively new form of cancer treatment, proton beam therapy may also offer hope for people who suffer from chronic pain. This highly precise, targeted treatment could hold the key to helping people deaden pain while lessening the need to use potentially addictive management medications.

To find out more about the possibilities, researchers at the Loma Linda University Cancer Center are working with veterans to determine if this treatment can ease suffering. This population was specifically chosen because an estimated 44 percent of military veterans suffer from chronic pain versus 26 percent of the general public.

The concept behind the study, which is actively under way, involves using proton beams to target areas where pain originates. The hope is to use the radiation to neutralize the pain so the brain cannot interpret it. The overall goal is to lessen pain while helping decrease the need for patients to use potentially dangerous and costly pain medications. How soon results might be available remains unclear.

Proton beam therapy works in a similar fashion to standard radiation therapy. This form of treatment, when used in cancer, has the goal of killing off cancer cells through irradiation. The properties of proton beams enable doctors to be highly precise in their delivery of radiation, which can mean a dramatic reduction in the potential to damage otherwise healthy cells.

At present, proton beam therapy for cancer patients is somewhat limited in its availability. This therapy calls for highly specialized, costly equipment. Even so, the effectiveness of the treatment in some studies is giving rise to a growing demand for this alternative. Should it also prove effective in treating chronic pain, it’s likely demand will grow even more.

People who suffer from conditions that cause chronic pain are urged to discuss all treatment options with their healthcare providers. The best course of action will hinge on the details of each individual case. While proton therapy may offer hope, much study must be done to gauge its effectiveness in this arena along with prospective risks.

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