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Pediatric Brain Tumors: The Fight Against Medulloblastoma

Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute

When college student Isabella Strahan appeared Thursday on Good Morning America (GMA), she shared her diagnosis of medulloblastoma with the world. It put the spotlight on childhood brain cancer, a disease that requires treatment at specialized centers such as Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute.


Medulloblastoma is the second most common brain cancer in children and young adults. Approximately 500 children and 200 young adults in the U.S. each year receive the news that they have medulloblastoma. Fortunately, says Matthew Hall, M.D., lead pediatric radiation oncologist at the Institute, it has a high survival rate if sophisticated care is available.


Matthew Hall, M.D., lead pediatric radiation oncologist at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute



At Isabella’s side during the interview was her father, GMA co-host Michael Strahan. The two recounted Isabella’s symptoms ― excruciating headaches and worsening balance issues, which began in the fall of 2023, shortly after she left home for her freshman year of college. An MRI showed a 4 cm tumor near the base of her skull, which was growing rapidly. The 19-year-old underwent immediate brain surgery in Los Angeles.


What followed next for Isabella was proton therapy, a treatment that only about half of children with medulloblastoma in the United States receive, Dr. Hall says. “Proton therapy is the best form of radiation therapy for children, because a child’s brain is still growing and their bodies are very vulnerable to radiation,” he says. “Proton therapy sends high-powered beams of protons precisely to the tumor. This significantly spares nearby healthy tissue and reduces side effects from radiation. Studies show that patients who get proton therapy will preserve IQ, memory and reasoning skills, while patients getting traditional radiation therapy have declines in all.”


Many children who have traditional radiation therapy to treat their brain cancer do so because they do not have a proton therapy center near them. Miami Cancer Institute has the largest pediatric radiation oncology program in Florida.


For medulloblastoma patient Senaya Estorcien, it meant traveling from Broward County to Miami Cancer Institute daily for nearly two months to undergo proton therapy after surgery to remove her tumor in 2020.


 At age 10, Senaya Estorcien was treated for medulloblastoma by experts at Baptist Health Miami Cancer Institute


“Proton just wasn’t available in Broward County,” her mother, Daphney Estorcien said. “We knew proton therapy was what was best for her.” Senaya, who was 10 when she had surgery, is a happy, thriving seventh grader today.


Medulloblastoma treatment typically also includes chemotherapy following proton therapy, and that’s the next step for Isabella.


“For most patients, the tumor is localized and hasn’t spread,” Dr. Hall says. “Cure rates have improved over time and the cure rate is better than 80 percent for these children. Even for patients whose medulloblastoma has spread, cure rates are still better than 50 percent. Providing a high chance of a cure while minimizing long-term effects is our goal. If a child or young adult is diagnosed with medulloblastoma, they need to be evaluated at a proton therapy center to provide them the best chance of cure with the fewest harms.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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