The use of proton radiotherapy to treat the most common malignant brain tumor in children is as effective as standard photon (x-ray) radiation therapy while causing fewer long-term side effects such as hearing loss and cognitive disorders, according to a study receiving online publication in Lancet Oncology. The paper from a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators describes patient outcomes an average of seven years after proton therapy for medulloblastoma, a fast-growing tumor that develops in the cerebellum at the base of the brain.
“Proton radiotherapy is still not widely available in the U.S. or around the world, but it is increasingly recognized for its potential to reduce the side effects of treatment, particularly in the pediatric population,” says Torunn Yock, MD, MCh, Mass General Department of Radiation Oncology, lead and corresponding author of the report. “At experienced centers, proton therapy has a proven track record of treatment success and safety.”
In contrast to photon radiotherapy, in which a dose of radiation is delivered all along the x-ray beam as it passes through a patient’s body, in proton therapy the dose is precisely focused on the target area with little or no dose delivered to normal tissues in front of or behind the tumor. This feature has made proton therapy particularly attractive to treat tumors in or near the brain or eyes, areas where the protection of nearby healthy tissues is particularly critical.