Proton Radiotherapy: A Gentler Form of Radiation Treatment
Recent studies in Pediatric patients with brain tumors point to the efficacy of a new way of delivering radiation treatment which may result in improved long term outcomes for children. Although not widely available, the new treatment, proton radiotherapy, focuses the radiation dose on the target area alone. Standard photon (X-ray) radiation has the troublesome effect of exposing surrounding healthy tissues and organs to the radiation as well. The new treatment has the distinct advantage of getting to “hard to get to” tumors. A new study completed at the Massachusetts General Hospital describes the results in a Pediatric patient population with medulloblastoma treated with the usual combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Medulloblastoma is a fast-growing, high grade tumor always located in the cerebellum of the brain. It is a relatively rare tumor with more than 70% being diagnosed in children under 10 years of age. Like many tumors, its exact cause is unknown. In the study, the newer form of targeted radiation therapy was used and compared with the more conventional (photon) radiation. The results, as pointed out by Dr. Torunn Yock, Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology at Harvard Medical School, showed comparable survival and tumor recurrence risks as well as long term hormone deficits between the two groups but far fewer side effects related to hearing, cognition, and other organ systems. The results are exciting in that they demonstrate the efficacy and safety of proton radiotherapy with decreased long term side effects, thus improving the quality of life in these young survivors.