Treating brain cancer in young children is a challenge, as radiation doses can negatively impact IQ and cognition as their brains grow and develop. A new longitudinal study, however, shows that children with medulloblastoma, a fast-growing brain tumor, had significantly better long-term intellectual outcomes when treated with proton beam therapy  compared to traditional photon radiotherapy.
The study , published recently in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Canadian Institute of Health Research, and led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.
Proton therapy is among the most advanced cancer treatments in the world, according to Matthew David Hall, M.D. , lead pediatric radiation oncologist at Miami Cancer Institute , part of Baptist Health South Florida.
“With proton therapy, we are able to beam particles precisely where they are needed to destroy the tumor, while sparing healthy surrounding tissue,” says Dr. Hall, who has extensive training and experience in both proton therapy and standard photon therapy.
Children who receive radiation therapy experience significant, lifelong effects from conventional radiation, according to Dr. Hall, so pediatric cancers are naturally a prime target for proton therapy.
“The ability to precisely target the radiation dose to the tumor is especially important when treating patients whose young bodies are more vulnerable to radiation,” Dr. Hall says. “One of the major benefits of proton therapy is that it reduces exposure of normal tissues to radiation, which, as this study shows, can affect intellectual outcomes as the child grows and develops.”
In the study, researchers showed that children treated with proton radiotherapy had significantly better scores for global intelligence quotient (IQ), perceptual reasoning and working memory. Conversely, patients who received traditional photon therapy showed significant declines in IQ, working memory and processing speed.
Miami Cancer Institute was among the very first cancer centers in the nation – and is still the only one in South Florida – to offer proton therapy. With the addition of the proton therapy program in 2017, the Institute also became the only cancer center in the world with every radiation therapy available under one roof.
Since it opened a little over two years ago, more than 500 patients  have been treated at Miami Cancer Institute’s Proton Therapy Center. That number includes 60 pediatric brain tumor patients, one of whom was just one year old at the time of treatment.