Innovations in Biotechnology and Medical Sciences

Proton Beam Therapy out of reach for many


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Proton Beam Therapy

Mains level: Not Much


There is currently a demand-supply gap of proton beam therapy machines in India, leaving many cancer patients in a difficult situation.

What is Proton Beam Therapy?

  • Proton beam therapy is a type of radiation therapy — a treatment that uses high-energy beams to treat tumors.
  • Radiation therapy using X-rays has long been used to treat cancers and noncancerous (benign) tumors.
  • It uses protons rather than x-rays to treat cancer. At high energy, protons can destroy cancer cells.
  • It can also be combined with x-ray radiation therapy, surgery, chemotherapy, and/or immunotherapy.
  • Like x-ray radiation, proton therapy is a type of external-beam radiation therapy.

How it works?


  • Fundamentally, all tissue cells are made up of molecules with atoms as their building blocks.
  • In the center of every atom is the nucleus. Orbiting the nucleus of the atom are negatively charged electrons.
  • When energized protons pass near orbiting electrons, the positive charge of the protons attracts the negatively charged electrons, pulling them out of their orbits. This is called ionization.
  • It changes the characteristics of the atom and consequentially the character of the molecule within which the atom resides.
  • Because of ionization, the radiation damages molecules within the cells, especially the DNA.
  • Damaging the DNA destroys specific cell functions, particularly the ability to divide or proliferate.
  • While both normal and cancerous cells go through this repair process, a cancer cell’s ability to repair molecular injury is frequently inferior.
  • As a result, cancer cells sustain more permanent damage and subsequent cell death than occurs in the normal cell population.

Why in news?

  • There is currently a significant demand-supply gap of proton beam therapy machines in India, with only a few machines available in the country.
  • This has resulted in long wait times for patients who need the treatment, and many patients are forced to travel abroad to access the treatment, which can be prohibitively expensive.

Various challenges

  • Huge demand: The demand for PBT machines is also increasing, as more and more patients are being diagnosed with cancer and are seeking the latest and most effective treatments available.
  • High cost: One of the major challenges in setting up PBT machines is the high cost involved, as the machines are complex and require a significant investment.
  • Shortage of personnel: In addition, there is a shortage of trained personnel who can operate and maintain the machines, which further limits their availability.

Way Forward

  • The government and private sector need to invest more in setting up and maintaining the machines. This could include-
  1. Offering tax incentives and subsidies to private healthcare providers who invest in PBT machines
  2. Providing training and education to personnel who can operate and maintain the machines
  3. Setting up more public hospitals that offer proton beam therapy, which would help to make the treatment more accessible and affordable to patients who need it


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