The case of young British patient Ashya King has caught the attention of the world.

At issue is the parent’s request for proton beam therapy to treat in their son’s medulloblastoma, a serious form of brain cancer. This tragic case touches on many important subjects, including a parent’s right to seek a particular treatment, and the UK medical community response to their actions.

While the Prostate Cancer Treatment Research Foundation focuses on evaluating the various treatments for prostate cancer, this news caught our attention because of the inaccuracy of statement making its way into many of the news reports. Here is one from USA Today:

Proton beam therapy is a targeted type of radiation treatment that increases the chance of killing cancer cells by sending a higher dose of radiation directly to the tumor.

Unlike other types of cancer treatment, it doesn’t indiscriminately kill surrounding healthy tissue, so there could be fewer long term effects.

The Prostate Cancer Treatment Research Foundation’s Medical Director, Dr. Peter Grimm, responds:

Protons are not discriminate. They kill normal cells along with cancer cells therefor, healthy tissue is affected around the tumor. Radiation treatment of all types is designed to treat the areas directly beyond the tumor in this, and other, cancers, in order to kill microscopic disease that extends beyond the visible tumor.

It is impossible not to treat some healthy tissue no matter what the type of cancer or where it is located. In certain situations it allows for a higher dose to be delivered to the tumor compared to conventional radiation but in the case of prostate cancer, this is not the case

This case highlights the importance of having accurate, unbiased information when considering any treatment method. For prostate cancer, the interactive comparison charts available on the foundation website are derived from over 1,100 published, peer-reviewed articles, and show the relative effectiveness of a variety of treatments, including proton therapy.

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