Proton beam therapy for gastrointestinal cancers: past, present, and future
Despite the conformality of modern X-ray therapy limiting high dose received by normal tissues the physical properties of X-rays make it impossible to avoid dose being delivered distal to the target. This “exit dose” is likely clinically significant especially for patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancers when considering that even low dose received by the heart, lungs, bowel, and other radiosensitive structures can lead to morbidity and even may affect long-term tumor control. In contrast, proton beam therapy (PBT) delivers no “exit dose” and a growing body of literature suggests that this may improve clinical outcomes by reducing toxicity and even allowing for safe dose intensification to enhance tumor control. While there are not yet robust prospective data demonstrating the role of PBT for GI cancers, emerging retrospective data provide a strong rationale for continued study of how PBT may improve the therapeutic ratio for these patients. Here we review these data as well as discuss ongoing clinical trials of PBT for GI cancers.