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Side effects of proton radiotherapy: very minor and mostly localised

Radiotherapy is a localised treatment that acts exclusively on a pre-defined part of the body. This distinguishes it from chemotherapy, which has a different (‘systemic’) mode of action, acting – and producing side effects – throughout the human body.

Due to the local nature of proton therapy, radiotherapy side effects usually only occur in the irradiated area of the body and manifest themselves in forms which may include:

  • Irritation of the irradiated skin (radiodermatitis) and of mucous membranes (radiogenic mucositis)
  • Burning sensation when urinating (following radiotherapy of the prostate)
  • Hair loss (following radiotherapy in and around the head)

In rare instances nausea and vomiting These localised and acute proton therapy side effects are usually of a temporary nature and generally disappear within a few weeks of treatment.

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The case management of WPE will assist you with questions you may have.

Primary prophylactic measures and Supportive therapy

The best preventive measure for minimising the undesirable side effects of radiotherapy is selecting the optimum radiotherapy technique. This protects the body and in particular the neighbouring organs to best effect.

At WPE, we keep an eye out for potential side effects right from the outset and can minimise them as far as possible by taking appropriate prophylactic measures based on our guidelines

Proton therapy and pain?

As a rule, proton therapy does not cause any pain, making it a treatment option that offers maximum quality of life.

Other side effects of proton therapy and potential late complications

Proton therapy is extremely precise, so that side effects can be minimised as far as possible. That said, side effects can occur. In addition to the localised acute side effects mentioned above, side effects affecting the patient’s well-being and certain late complications can result.

Tiredness, listlessness and loss of appetite

During proton therapy, patients may sometimes experience tiredness, listlessness or loss of appetite. This is caused by the effort your body puts into processing the rays. It can also manifest itself in fatigue, a broad term comprising various symptoms of exhaustion.

However, these side effects of proton therapy vary widely from individual to individual and depend on the part of the body being treated, on the individual or total dose and on the frequency of radiotherapy treatment. Added to this is the fact that sensitivity to radiation varies from person to person.

Late complications of proton therapy

In some cases, proton therapy can lead to late complications such as permanent scarring. In children in particular, radiotherapy can affect body growth and pubertal development, hormone production, salivation and the functions of the nervous system, eyes or ears. However, due to the pinpoint accuracy of proton therapy, such late complications are fairly rare. However, sometimes the location of a tumour is so difficult that not all organs or nerves can be spared. It is then necessary to weigh up which side effects will be the least restrictive.

Radiotherapy in combination with chemotherapy

Important information: If chemotherapy is carried out at the same time as radiotherapy, blood count changes, increased nausea and even vomiting and increased irritation of the mucous membranes may also occur in addition to the side effects mentioned above.

100% support for side effects of proton therapy at the WPE

At the WPE, you will receive optimal support for proton therapy side effects right from the start. For example, we will inform you about how you can avoid and, if necessary, treat possible side effects during your consultation. You will also be continuously monitored during treatment.

If side effects occur late at home, please inform our medical team, the radiographers or the nurses in the outpatient clinic. This way, they can be monitored and countermeasures can be taken.

Outpatient Care Unit for side effects during proton therapy

Our own WPE Outpatient Care Unit has been set up to help avoid or alleviate potential side effects. There you will receive guideline-based support from qualified nursing staff who always work closely with our medical team.

Psychosocial support

In addition to the physical side effects of radiotherapy, we also support you as a patient with the psychological effects of a tumor disease. This is provided by our psychosocial service team, which specializes in supporting cancer patients and their relatives during proton therapy.

Long-term observations concerning the side effects of proton therapy

Since patient treatment began at WPE, we have documented the treatments and any side effects that have occurred in anonymised form as part of studies. This data is intended help to draw nuanced conclusions on future possibilities offered by proton therapy, and also on tolerability and potential late complications.

Based on the results to date, for example, it can be said that proton therapy is well tolerated, partly due to the fact that surrounding healthy tissue is spared during proton irradiation.

With our research, we are constantly improving proton therapy and helping ensure that the side effects of radiotherapy can be avoided as far as possible in future.

Our studies

The WPE also conducts its own cancer research studies.

Contact us

If you experience side effects from radiotherapy, please contact us before or after your treatment. Our colleagues in the medical team, the MTRA (medical radiology technicians) and the outpatient unit will be happy to help with any questions you may have.

If you would like to find out more about the potential side effects of proton therapy, please contact us.

All initial contact is handled by our experienced, dedicated Case Management unit – the interface between you and our team. Case Management will help you with any questions you may have in the run-up to treatment.

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    Case management

    The case management of WPE will assist you with questions you may have