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Anita Mahajan, M.D.

Ask Dr. Anita Mahajan to describe her typical patient, and she’ll tell you, “They’re young, they’re fun, and they give good hugs.”

Mahajan is the medical director for the Proton Therapy Center and the director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology in MD Anderson’s Department of Radiation Oncology. She works primarily with pediatric patients at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center. 

“I enjoy working with pediatric proton patients because I know that MD Anderson has the expertise and depth of experience and specialties to counter any medical challenges our young patients may face,” she said.

“As a large cancer center, we can offer our pediatric patients nearly every subspecialty available, including excellent dedicated pediatric anesthesia support and multiple specialists, such as pediatric radiation oncologists, who are experts in treating children with cancer and patients with cancers of the central nervous system. And we are able to provide this exceptional medical care in a family-friendly environment that supports the emotional needs of children.”

In 2006, just months after opening, the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center successfully treated its first pediatric patient, a 2-year-old with medulloblastoma.

As proton therapy continues to provide a viable cancer treatment option with fewer side effects, Mahajan has seen its visibility heighten among parents and pediatric caregivers of children with cancer who once were given only three treatment options – surgery, standard radiation and chemotherapy.

“As a pediatric radiation oncologist, I am truly gratified to be able to offer my patients and their family a treatment like proton therapy,” said Mahajan. “Most of the patients I see are young and have a lot of growing and developing to do, and proton therapy allows us to target the tumor while limiting radiation exposure in normal tissues. This is critical when treating children with radiation.” 

Since it opened in 2006, the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center has treated more than 400 pediatric patients, primarily children diagnosed with brain tumors. However, pediatric cancer patients with rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing’s sarcoma, osteosarcoma and anything that requires precise radiation also have been treated at the center.

The team at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy continues to find ways to extend proton technology to benefit patients. The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center pioneered pencil beam proton therapy, an even more advanced form of proton therapy, and recently began using it to treat children with cancer.

Pencil beam proton therapy can treat even the most complex pediatric tumors, like those in the brain and in the base of the skull and eye, while leaving healthy tissue and critical structures virtually untouched. Because children’s developing bodies may have more serious long-term side effects from standard radiation treatment, proton therapy is increasingly being used to precisely treat cancer in pediatric patients.

 “In the next few years, we’ll see even more advances in proton technology, such as intensity modulated proton therapy, that will give even more benefits to our young patients. Our ultimate goal is to help our young patients go on to live happy and healthy lives with very limited – or no – treatment-related side effects. And with proton therapy as a treatment option, we’re able to do that.”

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© 2014 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center