There are many types of radiation treatments. The type of radiation treatment depends on the area of the body being treated. Radiation types include conventional radiation therapy, proton beam therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT), stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), and brachytherapy. Your child’s radiation oncologist and cancer team will discuss the type of radiation treatment that will be best for your child.
Your child or young adult may also be able to participate in a clinical trial. A clinical trial tests what approaches to treatment and sometimes what dose are the most safe and helpful. Sometimes your medical team may recommend a clinical trial if it offers the best treatments for your child. Participation in a clinical trial is voluntary. If there is not an appropriate clinical trial for your child’s condition or if you decline a clinical trial, your team will offer the standard of care therapy or the best-known treatment at that time.
Pediatric cancers are typically discussed in a multidisciplinary tumor board. Not all centers treat pediatric cancers, so your child may be referred to a center that more frequently treats pediatric cancer.
Proton beam therapy is a form of radiation therapy that uses particles to treat cancer instead of X-rays. Because regular radiation is based on X-rays, it travels all the way through the body. Proton particles, on the other hand, only travel a set distance into the body because they have mass and are assigned a certain amount of energy by the machine that makes them (called a cyclotron). This can be a helpful feature in treating certain types of cancer and parts of the human body. When radiation oncologists treat children for cancer, they are even more concerned about side effects because in some cases the area that needs to be treated may not be fully developed and might be at risk for unique or more frequent side effects.
There are certain cancers that we believe may benefit more than others from proton therapy. These include some brain and spine tumors, tumors involving the center of the chest, and those very close to other critical organs in the body. In certain special cases, proton therapy may be used to treat an area that has already previously received radiation. Some research has shown that certain effects of X-ray-based radiation, such as reduction in brain function (or IQ), may be less likely when proton therapy is used.
Ask your radiation oncologist whether proton therapy would be helpful in your child’s case. If it is, there may be a center close to you that offers this type of treatment.