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Proton Therapy for Childhood Cancers

The dedicated pediatric cancer specialists at the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center are world leaders in the research and treatment of childhood cancer with proton therapy, an advanced form of radiation precisely targets tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissue. Our pediatric team includes physicians, nurses, radiation therapists and other cancer experts that specializes in treating children with cancer. Since the Proton Therapy Center opened in 2006, we have treated more than 800 children with proton therapy.

From its inception, the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center was designed with children and their families in mind – from our child-friendly waiting and play areas to our special, early appointment times for many of our young patients.

At the Proton Therapy Center, our team shares one goal: Helping children overcome cancer so they can live healthy lives with fewer side effects. 

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Childhood Cancer We Treat

Proton therapy is an excellent treatment option for children, adolescents and young adults with cancerous and non-cancerous tumors that can be treated with traditional radiation. Children with tumors in the brain, head, neck, spinal cord, heart, lungs and other areas that are sensitive to radiation can benefit from treatment with proton therapy because physicians can target treatment directly to the tumor area. The following types of childhood cancer that may be treated with proton therapy include:

  • Astrocytoma
  • Brain Tumors
  • Choriocarconoma
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Ewing’s Sarcoma
  • Glioblastoma
  • Glioma
  • Intracranial germ cell tumors (germinoma)
  • Optic pathway/hypothalamic glioma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Meningioma
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Optic Nerve Tumors
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor (PNET)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Teratoma

If your child’s type of tumor is not listed, please contact the Proton Therapy Center for more information. Because the center is part of MD Anderson, one of the nation’s top cancer centers, we treat more types of cancer in children with proton therapy than any other center. Our multidisciplinary team of pediatric cancer experts evaluates each individual child’s specific type of cancer and recommends the best course of treatment.

Benefits of Proton Therapy for Children

Most tumors in children are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. While traditional radiation therapy with X-ray beams can be effective, it also can produce documented long-term side effects in some children, such as a decrease in bone and soft tissue growth in the treated area, hormonal deficiencies, intellectual impairment, including neuro-cognitive deficits, and secondary cancers later in life.

The ability to precisely target tumors makes proton therapy ideal for treating childhood cancer. It provides accurate treatment of tumors near or within sensitive organs while limiting radiation exposure to healthy tissues, which is vital in children whose bodies are still growing and developing. This may reduce side effects during treatment, often allowing children to better tolerate proton therapy. Additionally, studies show that proton therapy can also result in fewer late effects from treatment, a major concern among physicians and families when a child – especially a very young child – is undergoing radiation treatment. This includes potentially fewer issues with brain development for children who have been treated for brain tumors.

Though treatment can vary for each patient’s specific case, most children are treated daily, Monday through Friday, for five to six weeks. Treatment can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 ½ hours daily, depending on whether the child is sedated.

Watch a video for more information on proton therapy for childhood cancer

Pencil Beam Proton Therapy

MD Anderson pioneered pencil beam scanning proton therapy, also called spot scanning, and has extended its benefits to children with cancer. Pencil beam proton therapy is an even more precise form of proton therapy treatment; it can be directed to move throughout the tumor’s depth to "paint" the treatment volume with spots of radiation, conforming to the shape of the tumor and delivering thousands of spots of radiation in just a few minutes. This can provide even greater benefits to young patients with brain or other types of tumors, especially those that are oddly shaped or within or near critical structures or vital organs in the body. MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center is the only center in North America and one of three in the world to use pencil beam scanning proton therapy to treat both pediatric and adult patients.

Dedicated Pediatric Team

At MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we have a dedicated pediatric team that includes radiation oncologists, nurses, therapists, social workers, a child life specialist and other cancer specialists – all experts in treating children with cancer.

We also have a dedicated pediatric anesthesia team to provide anesthesia to very young children who may require daily sedation to help them remain still for their proton therapy treatment. MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center is one of the few proton therapy centers with a dedicated, on-site pediatric anesthesia team dedicated to caring for children. The specialized, experienced anesthesia support is essential for the safety and effectiveness of proton radiation delivery.

Watch this video of Shannon Popovich, M.D., explaining what parents can expect with daily anesthetic treatments in an effort to ease any apprehensions and fears parents have about their children being put to sleep for proton therapy treatment.

Protocols for Proton Therapy

At MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we collaborate with all of the cooperative groups for pediatric cancer, including the Children’s Oncology Group (COG) and the Pediatric Brain Tumor Consortium. Our physicians worked with COG to refine proton radiation guidelines for the organization’s protocols. Proton therapy radiation is now an acceptable form of radiation treatment for nearly all COG clinical trials that call for radiation therapy.

Expertise and Convenience in a Family-Friendly Setting

Because we are a part of MD Anderson Cancer Center, which has ranked as one of the nation’s top two cancer centers in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals” survey for the past 25 years, our pediatric patients and their families have access to all of the resources of an internationally respected academic medical center within reach, including the Children’s Cancer Hospital at MD Anderson. And as part of the world-renowned Texas Medical Center, we have the greatest capacity for treating young patients from other major hospitals, both in our community and from around the world.

We also offer convenient, free surface lot parking at the center to help ease the burden of daily parking charges on families during treatment.

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Meet Our Survivors

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Since treating our first patient in May 2006, the dedicated team at the Proton Therapy Center has helped countless patients overcome cancer and get back to living their lives. Click here to read our patient survivor stories.

© 2015 The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center