WEB REVIEW – PT : safest radiation treatment for pediatric tumors

If your child was diagnosed with cancer, you would want to find the best, smartest and most pain-free treatment available. For a growing number of pediatric patients and their parents, it is clear that proton beam radiation may be the most desirable course of action to pursue. But sadly, that too many patients and their doctors remain unfamiliar with proton therapy and its documented benefits.

This unawareness is partly due to the fact that there are only 12 proton therapy centers in the US. Combined, these centers treat approximately 10,000 patients a year, or less than 1% of all patients diagnosed with cancer. However, far from experimental, proton therapy has been greatly refined over the past two decades, and medical literature testifies to the efficacy of proton therapy for both adults and children and shows the lower incidence of secondary malignancies compared with photon therapy.

Conventional radiation therapy delivers large doses to ensure harm to all the cancer cells, but some undesirable energy finds its way beyond the tumor and causes unnecessary damage in healthy tissues. Children are more sensitive to radiation, and standard X-rays are often avoided, specifically under 3 years old because it can affect  growth and development.

In contrast, proton beams are specifically programmed to reach the exact depth needed to release their maximum energy. As a result, the treatment benefits are significantly maximized while unwanted side effects are greatly reduced. In short, because of the proton beam’s characteristics, we can increase the dose to target tumors in children while reducing the impact on surrounding normal tissues, which increases the likelihood of effective tumor control.

Most specifically, proton therapy has been particularly effective in treating three different types of pediatric cancers: brain tumors (i.e. the most common pediatric cancer), pediatric eye cancer and pediatric tumors at the base of the skull and along the spine : proton therapy minimizes the potentially damaging effects of radiation on the neighboring structures, which is crucial for tumors near critical vital organs.

Proton therapy treatment also has the added advantage of being both non-invasive and painless. The patient even enjoys a better quality of life after the treatment as compared to conventional X-rays (less side effects, etc.).

For more than two decades, proton therapy has been making a difference in the lives of people with many different types of cancers – from prostate to breast to lung. Now is the time to embrace this modality as a powerful tool to fight cancer in children.