Benefits of proton therapy for childhood cancer
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:
- Brain tumors
- Ewing’s sarcoma
- Intracranial germ cell tumors (germinoma)
- Optic pathway/hypothalamic glioma
- Optic Nerve Tumors
- Primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor (PNET)
Most tumors in children are treated with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. 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.
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.
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.
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.
The Pediatric Proton Consortium Registry (PPCR) was established in 2012 to expedite proton outcomes research to assure access to those pediatric patients who can benefit the most from it. It is the most comprehensive multi-institutional radiation based patient registry in existence and unique in its scope and depth.
Registry for Pediatric Patients Treated With Proton Radiation Therapy
NCT01696721 - In previous studies, Proton Beam Radiation Therapy (PBRT) has been found to show better results in treating patients with cancer, both because there is better control of where in the body the radiation is directed and because it is associated with less severe long term side effects. However, there is limited published data demonstrating these results. The goal of the Pediatric Proton Consortium Registry (PPCR) is to enroll children treated with proton radiation in the United States in order to describe the population that currently receives protons and better evaluate its benefits over other therapies. The data collected from this study will help facilitate research on proton beam radiation therapy and allow for collaborative research. The PPCR will collect demographic and clinical data that many centers that deliver proton radiation therapy already collect in routine operations.
For more information, please contact:
Nancy Philip, MD Anderson Clinical Studies Coordinator
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.
Leaders in research and treatment of childhood cancer
At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we 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.
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.
Proton Therapy Patient Stories
Medulloblastoma cancer survivor Owen Langston
"Owen’s age was a huge factor in determining what type of radiation we wanted to use. Proton therapy was so focused that it was the best solution to prevent long-term side effects."
Neuroblastoma cancer survivor Signe Rosenkrans
"Proton therapy was able to precisely target the cancer cells in Signe's body during treatment for neuroblastoma while sparing vital organs and tissue."
Rhabdomyosarcoma cancer survivor Sawyer Hack
“Proton therapy was able to target the tumor in Sawyer’s jaw and save sensitive tissue such as his eyes and ears.”
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