Brianna Gonzales knows where to go; this is not her first treatment. Brianna strides over to the radiation therapy control desk and plugs her purple iPhone into the treatment room’s sound system. The soundtrack for today’s proton therapy session features Halsey.
Brianna and her mother, Sarah, traveled from Colorado to Memphis to receive radiation therapy for her malignant brain tumor at the world’s first proton therapy center dedicated to childhood cancer.
In traditional radiation therapy, X-rays travel to a tumor via beams of high-energy photons. But photons do not stay within the tumor. These energetic particles pass through the tumor into the body, releasing energy along the way that harms healthy tissue and causes adverse side effects.
For Brianna, the goal is to not only treat the tumor, but limit the side effects of radiation therapy.
To achieve this, Brianna’s care team relies on a type of radiation therapy – known as proton therapy – that delivers beams of protons to a tumor. The power of the proton lies in its ability to deposit energy only where it stops – at the tumor – thus sparing surrounding healthy tissue and limiting side effects.
To study the risk and benefit of utilizing radiation therapy in different types of pediatric brain and solid tumors, Thomas Merchant, DO, PhD, chair of the Department of Radiation Oncology says, “More than half of all St. Jude patients require radiation therapy. We have systematically evaluated the use of different radiation therapy approaches for our diverse patients. For example, we have compared protons to photons in patients with specific diagnoses, and have researched new indications for the use of proton therapy.”