Proton Therapy at Johns Hopkins: FAQs

What is proton therapy and how does it work?

Proton therapy is an effective and safe way to treat tumors in parts of the body that are near vital organs. It uses charged particles, rather than traditional X-rays, to treat cancer. This approach precisely targets tumors while minimizing radiation exposure and damage to healthy tissue and organs.

Learn more about proton therapy.

What types of cancer are treated with proton beam therapy?

Proton therapy is used to treat tumors in children and adults. Some types of cancer for which proton therapy might be recommended are breast, esophageal, eye, gastrointestinal, gynecological, head and neck, liver, lung, pancreas, prostate, spine, soft tissue, lymphoma, sarcomas and many pediatric cancers. Researchers are studying the potential benefits of proton beam therapy on other kinds of cancers.

How do I know if I’m a good candidate for proton therapy at Johns Hopkins?

Proton therapy is used to target cancers located near vital organs such as the brain, spinal cord, heart, lung, liver and reproductive organs. Many factors are considered when choosing a cancer treatment approach. The cancer specialists at the Johns Hopkins National Proton Center will help you determine the best course of treatment for your unique condition.

Can my child be treated with proton therapy at Johns Hopkins?

Our center is one of the few in the world with a dedicated pediatric team of experts who provide specialized cancer care, including proton therapy. This treatment may be especially important for children, who are still growing and developing. Children often receive proton therapy to lower the risk of treatment-related side effects. Not all pediatric cancers benefit from proton therapy — contact us so that our medical team can evaluate your child.

Learn more about proton therapy for childhood cancers.

What if proton therapy is not right for me? What are my options?

Every patient is unique and every tumor is different. Our team will consider many important factors in recommending the best treatment. A treatment plan might include radiation, surgery, chemotherapy or use of novel agents, such as immunotherapy. Johns Hopkins specialists will carefully select the treatment with potential for the best outcome and the fewest side effects.

Do I need a referral from my doctor to be considered for proton therapy at Johns Hopkins?

A referral is not required to schedule an appointment.

Is proton therapy covered by health insurance?

Medicare generally covers proton beam therapy. If you and your doctor decide that proton therapy is the best choice, our billing specialists will work directly with your health insurance company to determine if it is covered.

What happens after I make an appointment?

Our team will help you gather all necessary medical documentation, test results and imaging scans. Once we receive this information, we will advise you if proton therapy is the best treatment.

How often and how long will I get proton radiation therapy?

The length of your treatment depends on the type and stage of cancer. In general:

  • Treatments may last one to nine weeks. Your doctor determines the duration of the treatments.
  • Most people get treatment once each day, Monday through Friday.
  • While most treatment sessions last 30 minutes to one hour, you receive radiation for only a few minutes. Most of the time during the session is spent moving into the treatment position and completing imaging and treatment protocols.
  • While we do our best to stay on schedule, we may encounter unexpected delays, so please plan for your visit to last one to 1.5 hours.

Who will be on my care team at the Johns Hopkins National Proton Center?

Radiation Oncologist

This medical specialist oversees all of your care and prescribes the length and dose of treatment.

Medical Dosimetrist

The dosimetrist works directly with the radiation oncologist by mapping out the dosage parameters around the tumor and the precise angles and depth of the proton beams.

Medical Physicist

The medical physicist oversees delivery of the proton beam therapy, ensuring the accuracy of the proton beam.

Proton Beam Therapy Nurse

This specialty nurse has advanced training in care for both adult and pediatric patients receiving proton beam therapy.

Radiation Therapists

Radiation therapists act as guides and help position you correctly on the proton beam therapy table. They also take X-rays to ensure the accuracy of your position before treatment starts, and they remain with you during the entire session.

Pediatric Anesthesiologists and Nurse Anesthetists

Children may need sedation during proton therapy to help them stay still. A dedicated pediatric anesthesiologist and a nurse anesthetist, both highly skilled at caring for infants and children, are on-site.

Will I feel claustrophobic during the treatment?

The proton treatment machine is open, so you won’t be in a confined space. However, you will need to maintain a very still position during the treatment. We use immobilization devices, such as a custom mask, cushion or body mold, that hold body parts in position. These devices help us make sure we deliver proton therapy with high precision. The radiation therapist will be in the next room and can see, hear and talk with you through a speaker at all times.

What if I have issues or questions during my treatments?

Once you start proton therapy at Johns Hopkins, you will meet with your doctor and a nurse every week to address any questions and treatment-related side effects. If you have questions at other times, one of our doctors is always available.

Are clinical trials available?

Our doctors may offer you the opportunity to enroll in a clinical trial as a treatment option. Clinical trial research is critical to improving cancer care. Our center is one of the few academic programs in the country that offers access to clinical trials, including studies comparing proton therapy with traditional photon therapy. Please contact us to find out if a research trial is available and appropriate for your care.

Why should I go to Johns Hopkins for proton therapy?

  • The Johns Hopkins National Proton Center at Sibley Memorial Hospital is one of the most comprehensive centers in the world and provides precise, personalized cancer care delivered by some of the world’s leading experts.
  • Our center is one of only a few with a dedicated pediatric team, which collaborates with Children’s National Hospital — one of the top 10 in the nation for pediatric cancer care.
  • Our center is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including pencil beam scanning, image guidance equipment, dedicated CT/MRI treatment simulators, a dedicated research gantry and translational laboratory space.
  • The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins is a world leader in cancer research. This research is critical to determining which type of treatment is best for each individual, helping us make cancer treatment more personal, precise and effective.