Proton Therapy for Pediatric Cancers

Precise Radiation Treatment for Childhood Cancers

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Precise Radiation Treatment for Childhood Cancers

Nowhere is proton therapy’s precise ability to target tumors more valuable than when treating pediatric cancers. Because they are still growing, children and teens are particularly sensitive to damage from radiation treatments. Though the original cancer may be treated successfully, radiation exposure in other organs can lead to future problems.

The most advanced facility of its kind in Southern California, Scripps Proton Therapy Center uses precisely focused radiation to help overcome these challenges. Protons deposit their highest doses directly in tumors, reducing exposure to healthy tissue. As a result, children with cancer can receive therapeutic doses with fewer side effects and a reduced chance of radiation-induced secondary cancers.

Our partners in care: Rady Children’s Hospital

The Scripps Proton Therapy Center team partners with pediatric radiation oncologists, pediatric anesthesiologists and pediatric nurses from Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego to provide treatment, so children are cared for by pediatric experts every step of the way. In addition, our young patients have a dedicated entrance, a child-friendly play area, a healing outdoor garden and their own recovery room separate from our adult patients. Learn more about Rady Children’s Proton Therapy Program.

Rady Children's Hospital

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Rady Children's Hospital

To ensure comprehensive care and support for families, pediatric patients are followed by Rady Children’s neuro-oncology team during their treatment.

Pediatric Cancer Treatment

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Pediatric Cancer Treatment

Proton Therapy for Pediatric Cancer Treatment

Focusing radiation specifically on tumors brings tremendous benefits for pediatric patients. This is particularly true with brain and spinal cancers. When treating brain tumors, the ability to reduce the amount of radiation exposure to normal tissue, away from the tumor, means fewer developing neurons are exposed. In the spine, precise targeting translates into less radiation in surrounding tissues, such as the heart, lungs, stomach and reproductive organs.

Because pediatric patients are so sensitive to radiation therapy, proton beam therapy is an effective option for many cancers. Ependymoma, a common malignant brain tumor in children, is a prime example, as X-ray radiation treatments can cause cognitive decline in children and adolescents. Other side effects of radiation therapy can include impaired hearing, hormonal issues and secondary cancers.

Because proton therapy is so accurate, treatment can be enhanced for some patients. Aggressive cancers can be treated with higher doses, and recurrent cancers can be targeted despite previous radiation treatments.

This accuracy is further enhanced by Scripps’ advanced imaging and pencil beam scanning technology, which focuses a narrow proton beam — smaller than the width of a pencil — to precisely target tumors.

Types of childhood cancers treated

The pediatric cancer specialists at Scripps Health and Rady Children’s Hospital use proton therapy to treat a variety of pediatric cancers, as well as non-malignant tumors, including:

Pediatric head, neck and brain tumors:

  • Astrocytoma and other gliomas, including optic pathway/hypothalamic glioma, oligodendroglioma, oligoastrocytoma, anaplastic astrocytoma
  • Atypical teratoid/Rhabdoid tumors
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Pineoblastoma
  • Intracranial germ cell tumors (germinoma)
  • Meningioma
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Nasopharyngeal carcinoma
  • Juvenile angiofibromas
  • Lymphoma
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Neurofibroma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Ewing’s sarcoma/Primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor (PNET)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Desmoid tumor
  • Histiocytosis X

View the evidence supporting the use of proton therapy as a treatment for pediatric cancers.

What to expect

Each child’s therapy is precisely tailored to their needs. Patients, parents and clinicians collaborate closely to create a personalized treatment plan. The number and length of treatments will vary, based on the type cancer. How patients respond to proton therapy treatment depends on many factors, including the types of treatments they are receiving. Many kids tolerate proton therapy well and continue to perform normal activities. However, individual responses vary.

Proton therapy is a highly precise form of external radiation therapy that can be used for tumor control in select pediatric patients. All cancer treatments have advantages and disadvantages. Be sure to discuss these, as well as treatment options, with your pediatric cancer specialist.