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Cancers that can be treated with proton therapy

Head, Neck and Mouth Cancer Treatments with Proton Therapy

Head, neck, and mouth cancers mostly occur in the squamous cells lining areas such as the throat, mouth, and nose, and sometimes cause facial and neck disfigurement and affect speech, vision, and sense of smell.

The biggest risk factors for these cancers include alcohol and tobacco use, including smokeless tobacco use. Another risk factor is HPV (human papillomavirus) infection. Men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with head and neck cancer, and people over the age of 40 are at higher risk. Poor diet, poor oral and dental hygiene, or a weakened immune system can also increase a person's risk.

As with brain and eye cancers, vulnerable, critical tissues and structures surround tumors that usually form in these areas, including the spinal cord and jawbone. As a result, they tend to be accidentally exposed to unnecessary radiation when traditional radiation therapy methods are used.

Signs / Symptoms

For more information for patients considering proton therapy for head and neck cancer treatment.
The symptoms of head and neck cancers will vary depending on the affected area. 


Symptoms include:

  • A lump or sore in the throat

  • a persistent sore throat

  • difficulty swallowing

  • Change in voice or hoarseness

  • Recurring pain in the neck or throat

  • frequent headaches

  • blocked sinuses that are not cleared

  • chronic sinus infections

  • Swelling under the chin and around the jawbone

  • A white or red spot on the gums, tongue, or surface of the mouth


A doctor may recommend a physical exam in which the oral and nasal cavities, neck, throat, and tongue are examined using a small mirror and lights, and the neck, lips, gums, and cheeks are checked for lumps.
A biopsy, in which tissue is removed and checked for cancer, may be used in conjunction with x-rays, CT scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).



Proton therapy allows specialists to target and control areas of the body where protons are released and release their energy, increasing the effectiveness of radiation while reducing damage to structures surrounding the treatment area. Patients will be at lower risk of many adverse side effects, including dry mouth and bone injury. Depending on the size of the tumor, a combination of proton and surgical treatment may be used for treatment.

Increasing rates of head and neck cancer are diagnosed each year. When treating head and neck tumors, it is very important to protect the sensitive organs surrounding the tumor. Proton therapy can significantly reduce damage to the eyes, optic nerves, salivary glands, and other tissues and organs near head and neck tumors.7-9 

Proton therapy also reduces the likelihood of side effects such as blindness, hearing impairment, and dry mouth.8

Secondary malignancies are also less likely with proton therapy.7 

Some of the head and neck cancer sites that benefit the most from proton therapy include:7,8,14

  • Nasopharynx (behind the nose where it meets the throat)

  • Nasal (nasal) cavity

  • Paranasal sinuses (facial sinuses)

  • Including the oropharynx (throat area at the back of the mouth), tonsils, and base of the tongue

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