• Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma Treatment

Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC) Treatment - Introduction

Adenoid cystic carcinoma (ACC) is a rare and aggressive form of cancer that primarily affects the salivary glands but can also occur in other areas of the body, such as the lacrimal glands and the respiratory and genital tracts. With its slow but relentless growth, ACC poses significant challenges to patients and oncologists alike. This article delves into the current treatment options for ACC, with a particular focus on proton therapy—a cutting-edge radiation treatment that shows promising results in managing this complex disease.

Understanding Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma (ACC)

Before delving into treatment options, it's essential to grasp the nature of adenoid cystic carcinoma. ACC is characterised by slow, infiltrative growth and a high propensity for nerve invasion, making complete surgical resection a challenging task. While it tends to respond well to initial treatments, it frequently recurs, leading to a prolonged disease course and impacting patients' quality of life.

Traditional Treatment Modalities

The treatment for adenoid cystic carcinoma often involves a combination of therapies, tailored to the individual patient and tumor characteristics. The primary approaches include:

Surgery: Surgical resection remains the cornerstone of ACC treatment when feasible. The goal is to achieve complete tumor removal, which is essential for long-term disease control. However, due to the tumor's intricate location and infiltrative nature, complete resection is not always achievable.

Radiation Therapy: Radiation therapy plays a crucial role in both the adjuvant and definitive settings. It is used to target residual tumor cells after surgery or as the primary treatment for inoperable or unresectable tumors. Conventional radiation techniques have been the standard approach for many years.

Chemotherapy: In some cases, chemotherapy may be used, but its effectiveness in treating ACC is limited. Chemotherapy is generally reserved for advanced or metastatic cases, where the goal is to alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life.

Targeted Therapy: Emerging research has identified potential molecular targets in ACC, leading to the exploration of targeted therapies. However, more extensive clinical trials are needed to establish their efficacy and safety conclusively.

The Promise of Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment that has gained considerable attention in recent years, especially for complex and challenging cancers like adenoid cystic carcinoma. Unlike conventional photon-based radiation, proton therapy utilises protons—positively charged particles—as the radiation source. Protons have unique physical properties that allow for a more precise and controlled delivery of radiation to the tumour site.

Precision and Dose Distribution: Proton therapy's key advantage lies in its ability to target the tumour with high precision while sparing surrounding healthy tissues from unnecessary radiation exposure. This is particularly important for ACC, as tumors are often located near critical structures, such as nerves and major blood vessels.

Reduced Radiation Doses to Healthy Tissues: Compared to conventional radiation, proton therapy significantly reduces the radiation dose to organs at risk. This translates to lower risks of long-term side effects and secondary cancers, potentially improving the patient's long-term quality of life.

Proton Therapy for Adenoid Cystic Carcinoma: Clinical Evidence

Several studies have explored the use of proton therapy for adenoid cystic carcinoma, demonstrating promising outcomes:

A study published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology, Biology, Physics in 2016, analysed the data of ACC patients treated with proton therapy. The results showed excellent local control rates, with 5-year local control rates exceeding 90%.

In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology in 2017, researchers compared outcomes of proton therapy and photon-based radiation in ACC patients. The study found that proton therapy resulted in significantly lower rates of xerostomia (dry mouth) and feeding tube dependence, highlighting its potential for improving patient quality of life.

A systematic review and meta-analysis of proton therapy for head and neck cancers, including ACC, published in JAMA Oncology in 2021, demonstrated superior disease control and overall survival outcomes with proton therapy compared to photon-based radiation.


Adenoid cystic carcinoma presents a unique set of challenges to patients and oncologists due to its infiltrative growth and propensity for recurrence. While traditional treatment modalities offer some benefits, the promise of proton therapy in managing this complex disease is increasingly evident. Proton therapy's precision and ability to spare healthy tissues make it an attractive option for ACC patients, potentially leading to improved disease control rates and enhanced quality of life. As research and clinical experience continue to grow, it is hopeful that proton therapy will play an increasingly vital role in the comprehensive management of adenoid cystic carcinoma, offering renewed hope to patients and their families.

For personalised treatment advice, patients are encouraged to consult their healthcare providers and specialists.