New study suggests proton therapy for lung cancer lowers risk of heart disease

When treating lung cancer with radiation therapy, there is a significant concern that the treatment dose will expose the heart to excess radiation. One way to avoid this unnecessary radiation is by using proton therapy, a more precise form of radiation therapy as compared to traditional radiation therapy (x-rays/photons).

Researchers now say there is a link between lung cancer proton therapy and a reduced risk of certain heart diseases, including mini-strokes and heart attacks.

ABOUT THE STUDY

The findings of a new study from Penn Medicine were presented at the American Society for Radiation Oncology’s (ASTRO) annual meeting in October by Timothy Kegelman, MD, PhD, chief resident in the department of Radiation Oncology in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

Kegelman and his team of researchers followed more than 200 patients who underwent either proton therapy or traditional radiation therapy for locally advanced non-small cell lung cancer. The retrospective trial specifically looked at the percentage of patients who experienced cardiac side effects, including transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease, heart failure, and stroke.

PROMISING RESULTS FOR LUNG CANCER PROTON THERAPY

With a median follow up period of just under two a half years, the study found a significant difference in the incidence of mini-strokes. Just 1.1 percent of patients treated with proton therapy experienced a mini-stroke, compared to 8.2 percent of patients treated with traditional radiation therapy.

“This shows us another potential benefit of proton therapy for lung cancer patients,” Kegelman said. “We know proton has the ability to minimize radiation doses to surrounding organs like the heart. And these latest findings suggest that sparing correlates with fewer cardiac problems compared to conventional therapy.”

The authors of the study also pointed out a reduction in the incidence of