Comparing Ionizing Radiation Therapy and Charged Particle Radiotherapy


When a person is diagnosed with cancer, the typical treatment of the malignant tumor involves surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Conventional radiation therapy uses ionizing radiation (such as X-rays or gamma radiation) aimed directly at the tumor. This damages the DNA of the cancerous tissue, triggers complex biochemical reactions in the tumor and can through repeated treatments eventually result in cellular death. [1] The ionizing radiation, however, also damages healthy tissue, making the treatment of tumors close to critical body structures (e.g. the spinal cord or the brain) very dangerous or nearly impossible. The cancer therapy treatment center MedAustron in Wiener Neustadt (Austria) is currently (as of 2014) in its technical test phase. When treatments begin in 2015, it will use both proton and carbon ion beams for so-called charged particle radiotherapy instead of conventional ionizing radiation. It will be the first and so far only such facility in Austria. After introducing the basic concepts of radiation therapy, it will be shown that the use of proton or ion beams has important advantages over conventional types of radiation therapy and that it can be applied to areas of the body where the use of X-rays would risk damaging vital organs or other critical body structures. In order for the selected particles to reach the energy levels necessary for use in therapy, a particle accelerator is needed. The basic operating principle of the synchrotron type particle accelerator in use at the MedAustron facility will be briefly explained. Finally, the MedAustron facility itself will be discussed, particularly as regards the treatment of patients.


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