FLASH radiotherapy is the delivery of ultra-high dose rate radiation several orders of magnitude higher than what is currently used in conventional clinical radiotherapy, and has the potential to revolutionize the future of cancer treatment. FLASH radiotherapy induces a phenomenon known as the FLASH effect, whereby the ultra-high dose rate radiation reduces the normal tissue toxicities commonly associated with conventional radiotherapy, while still maintaining local tumor control. The underlying mechanism(s) responsible for the FLASH effect are yet to be fully elucidated, but a prominent role for oxygen tension and reactive oxygen species production is the most current valid hypothesis. The FLASH effect has been confirmed in many studies in recent years, both in vitro
and in vivo
, with even the first patient with T-cell cutaneous lymphoma being treated using FLASH radiotherapy. However, most of the studies into FLASH radiotherapy have used electron beams that have low tissue penetration, which presents a limitation for translation into clinical practice. A promising alternate FLASH delivery method is via proton beam therapy, as the dose can be deposited deeper within the tissue. However, studies into FLASH protons are currently sparse. This review will summarize FLASH radiotherapy research conducted to date and the current theories explaining the FLASH effect, with an emphasis on the future potential for FLASH proton beam therapy.
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