Center General Director Manfred Herbst, a doctor who helped pioneer the method in Germany, said there are fewer than 40 such facilities worldwide and the Prague facility is the fifth in Europe. There are 10 operating facilities in the United States.
"The main advantage of proton therapy is that the energy of the protons is concentrated in the tumor," Herbst told The Prague Post. "Only one-sixth of the energy goes outside the tumor into the healthy tissue. This means the healthy tissue is nearly unaffected, so we have really reduced the possibility of side effects."
The new therapy allows oncologists to target radiation at exactly the right area of the body, eliminating much of the damage caused by X-rays using traditional radiation therapy. For those with prostate cancer, the new therapy lowers the risk of impotence, bowel problems or rectal bleeding.
The treatment is seen as especially beneficial for children, whose development could be harmed by traditional radiation therapy, as well as to those suffering from cancers of the brain, eye or lungs, where the tumor moves when a patient breathes, Herbst explained.
Machinery fires the proton beam and a cyclotron's magnets and electric fields separate the protons from the electrons. The positively charged particles are accelerated to 60 percent the speed of light, sending them into the patient's body at up to 230 mega-electron volts, while X-rays operate at 30 mega-electron volts -- or the difference between being hit by a golf ball and a ping pong ball, Herbst said.
Full clinical trials haven't proved the treatment's validity but a definitive study began at the Massachusetts General Hospital last summer.
However, the Czech Republic's public health insurance hasn't approved the more expensive treatment so patients have to pay for it out of their own pockets.