St. Jude is home to the world’s first proton therapy center solely for children.
Since it is especially important to protect a child’s still-developing body, proton therapy may be ideal for treating children with certain cancers.
Proton therapy lets doctors aim high-dose radiation at cancer cells and spare healthy cells. It is one of the most advanced and precise forms of radiation treatment today. It’s used to treat these cancers in children:
With the St. Jude Proton Therapy Center, the hospital provides proton therapy to patients who need it. The benefit of radiation from protons is that they target the tumor so well that very little radiation gets into the nearby healthy tissue. Depending on where the tumor is, radiation to healthy areas can be much less than it is with standard treatments.
Unlike radiation from X-rays or gamma rays, protons harm less tissue on the way to the tumor. They hold on to their energy and mostly deliver radiation inside the tumor. The radiation beams from protons also don’t harm as many healthy cells on the other side of the tumor.
Another benefit is that proton therapy may cause fewer late effects from treatment. When a child has radiation to treat a brain tumor, it’s especially important to avoid those late effects because radiation can harm development of the child’s brain. In fact, for some types of brain tumors, protons are considered the best choice.
Treatment with Proton Therapy
At St. Jude, you will have a dedicated multidisciplinary team for your child’s treatment, which may include his or her radiation oncologist, anesthesiologist, nurses, social worker, rehabilitation therapist and child life specialist.
The radiation oncologist will explain how the treatment will work and what your child can expect during and after treatment.
Radiation Therapy Process
Most children treated with proton beam therapy at St. Jude receive daily treatments during the week, Monday through Friday. Treatment sessions may range from 30 minutes to an hour. Most of this time is used to make sure your child is positioned correctly to receive the treatment. The actual proton beam therapy only lasts for a few minutes. Your child will hear the machine moving, but they won’t see or feel the proton beam.
Your child may not see the machine that starts proton therapy. The machine that energizes the protons and carries them to the treatment room is huge—about 3 stories high. Because of the large size of the equipment, it’s housed at the center of the St. Jude campus. It also includes PET/CT and MRI units, as well as rooms specifically for patients to use before and after anesthesia.
The St. Jude Proton Therapy Center also helps the hospital continue to research the use of proton therapy in children, including the best way to use it and in different types of cancers.