Advances in Neuro-oncology

Proton Therapy for Children and Adults

Proton therapy has grown in prominence in recent years as another radiotherapy technique that spares healthy tissue. Unlike photons, which travel all the way through a target and come out the other side, protons can be programmed to stop inside the target, delivering the entire dose to a tumor.

Proton therapy particularly offers attractive benefits for pediatric cancer patients, as they are susceptible to more long-term effects of radiation. Gondi and colleagues at Northwestern presented another study at the 2018 American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) meeting comparing neurocognitive effects of proton versus photon therapy in 125 children with brain tumors. The median age at diagnosis was 7 years old, and the median time from treatment to last assessment was four years. According to Gondi, the children treated with proton therapy scored higher post-treatment in full-scale IQ, processing speed and parent-reported practical functions.

Proton therapy also offers opportunities for treating adults with brain tumors, particularly gliomas, one of the most common types of primary brain tumors. In particular, Gondi is interested in low-grade gliomas, a slow-growing tumor that can develop earlier in life. “The average age of someone with a low-grade glioma is actually 37 — that’s the prime of these young adult lives. Their cognitive function is so important. So we’re using proton therapy to try to treat that tumor, avoid as much unnecessary radiation dose to normal brain tissue, and see if we can’t help preserve that cognitive function,” he said.

“It’s about that survivorship and how we can optimize that survivorship,” he added.

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