MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center

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With proton therapy, your child can fight cancer without compromising his or her quality of life. It has fewer side effects than traditional radiation and effectively kills cancer cells in even the most difficult tumors. MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center is the leader in pediatric proton therapy, having treated more than 1,100 children.

Advantages of proton therapy for pediatric or childhood cancer:

  • Less impact on your child’s growth and development
  • Less harm to healthy tissues and vital organs
  • Lower risk of secondary cancers later in life
  • Non-invasive, painless, and little to no recovery time
  • Innovative technology delivers a higher dose of radiation with pinpoint accuracy
  • Magnetic Resonance simulation helps more precisely target the specific shape, size, and location of your child's tumor
  • Fewer issues with brain development for children who have been treated for brain tumors, including better outcomes for memory and cognition

What we treat

At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, our physicians focus on treating children in a comprehensive care environment to ensure children receive the best patient experience.

We use a team approach. Our physicians and other health professionals work together with you to understand and treat your child’s cancer based on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. This collaboration between cancer experts allows us to provide the best treatment outcomes.

The following types of childhood cancer that may be treated with proton therapy include:

  • Astrocytoma
  • Brain tumors
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Ewing's Sarcoma
  • Glioblastoma
  • Glioma
  • Intracranial germ cell tumors (germinoma)
  • Optic pathway/hypothalamic glioma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Meningioma
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Optic nerve tumors
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor (PNET)
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Teratoma

If your child’s type of cancer or tumor is not listed, there may be other options. Contact us for more information.

How it works

Proton Therapy Center

Proton therapy is an ideal option for cancer treatment in children and young adults, whose bodies are still developing. It is especially effective in young patients with oddly-shaped tumors or those whose cancer is located within or near critical structures or vital organs in the body.

With proton therapy, physicians can target cancer treatment directly to the tumor area, reducing radiation to sensitive areas of the body, such as the brain, head, neck, spinal cord, and heart. As a result, proton therapy can help reduce short-term and long-term side effects for our patients.

At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we use a dedicated MR Sim (magnetic resonance simulator) in addition to a CT simulation. The MR Sim enables our cancer experts to image the child's body in the treatment position, which when combined with the CT simulation, allows doctors to more accurately visualize and target the tumor.

What to expect

At the MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center, we have a world-renowned pediatric team of radiation oncologists, nurses, therapists, social workers, a child life specialist and other cancer specialists who will give you and your child the best experience possible.

We have the world's first proton therapy facility located within a comprehensive cancer center to help ensure the best possible treatment plan for your child.

Treatment is delivered in a comfortable, kid-friendly outpatient setting. Though treatment varies for each child, most children are treated daily, Monday through Friday, for 5 to 6 weeks. Treatment can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour daily.

The actual treatment is non-invasive, painless and typically has no impact on your child's energy level, so he or she can get right back to feeling like a kid again. Patients may feel some temporary discomfort on the skin over the affected area after treatment.

Patient stories

Colt Wilson

Meet Colt Wilson.

On August 25, 2016, shortly after Colt’s third birthday, doctors discovered a tumor known as a rhabdomyosarcoma. The tumor then spread into his prostate — very rare for pediatric patients. “That day will forever be engrained in my broken heart, my anxiety-ridden mind, my baby boy’s life forever”, Cortni Wilson said.

Colt endured 43 weeks of chemotherapy and 28 days of proton therapy radiation. Through it all, Colt kept up his vibrant, feisty attitude, lighting up the room with his smile and strong personality with every one he met.

Colt’s tumor is one of the hardest kind to measure because the bladder moves constantly. The fluid in the bladder makes the tumor look different every single time. On July 17, 2017, Colt was given the CANCER-FREE diagnosis. He is a true warrior, as well as his parents and older brother, who have been put through the ultimate test of faith and hope.

“Colt’s time at the MD Anderson Proton Center was nothing short of amazing. Everyone at the center, from the technicians to the nurses to the anesthesiologists, became family. There was never a time we both didn’t feel completely at home and at peace with our decision to choose proton radiation instead of surgery. We could never thank the Proton Therapy Center enough for everything they did to make sure our baby received the best care.”

Read real stories from MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center patients.

Clinical trials

The MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center uses clinical trials to find better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, including all forms of head and neck cancer, like tongue cancer, mouth or oral cancer, throat cancer, thyroid cancer, eye cancer and others.

Learn about the clinical trials offered by our proton therapy center or browse our list of clinical trials.

Scientific evidence

If you would like to read more about the effectiveness of proton therapy, please visit the sites below. You will find information on the effectiveness of conventional radiation versus proton treatments, including side effects and outcomes.

  1. Sethi RV, Shih HA, Yeap BY, et al. Second nonocular tumors among survivors of retinoblastoma treated with contemporary photon and proton radiotherapy. Cancer. 2014;120(1):126-133.
  2. Sabin ND, Merchant TE, Harreld JH, et al. Imaging changes in very young children with brain tumors treated with proton therapy and chemotherapy. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2013;34(2):446-450.
  3. Suneja G, Poorvu PD, Hill-Kayser C, Lustig RA. Acute toxicity of proton beam radiation for pediatric central nervous system malignancies. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2013;60(9):1431-1436.
  4. Jimenez RB, Sethi R, Depauw N, et al. Proton radiation therapy for pediatric medulloblastoma and supratentorial primitive neuroectodermal tumors: outcomes for very young children treated with upfront chemotherapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2013;87(1):120-126
  5. Zhang R, Howell RM, Homann K, Giebeler A, Taddei PJ, Mahajan A, Newhauser WD. Predicted risks of radiogenic cardiac toxicity in two pediatric patients undergoing photon or proton radiotherapy. Radiat Oncol. 2013 Jul 23:8(1):184.
  6. Kumar RJ, Shai H, Both S, Tochner Z, Lustig R, Hill-Kayser C. Breast cancer screening for childhood cancer survivors after craniospinal irradiation with protons versus x-rays: a dosimetric analysis and review of the literature. J Pediatr Hematol Oncol. 2013 Aug;35(6):462-7.
  7. Mailhot Vega RB, Kim J, Bussière M, et al. Cost effectiveness of proton therapy compared with photon therapy in the management of pediatric medulloblastoma. Cancer. 2013;119(24):4299-4307.
  8. Perez-Andujar A, Newhauser WD, Taddei PJ, Mahajan A, Howell RM. The predicted relative risk of premature ovarian failure for three radiotherapy modalities in a girl receiving craniospinal irradiation. Phys Med Biol. 2013 May 21;58(10):3107-23.
  9. Ray GL, Buchsbaum JC, McMullen KP, et al. Definitive treatment of leptomeningeal spinal metastases in children. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2013;60(11):1839-1841.
  10. Rombi B, Ares C, Hug EB, et al. Spot-scanning proton radiation therapy for pediatric chordoma and chondrosarcoma: clinical outcome of 26 patients treated at Paul Scherrer Institute. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2013;86(3):578-584.
  11. Rombi B, DeLaney TF, MacDonald SM, et al. Proton radiotherapy for pediatric Ewing’s sarcoma: initial clinical outcomes. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2012;82(3):1142-1148.
  12. Kuhlthau KA, Pulsifer MB, Yeap BY, et al. Prospective study of health-related quality of life for children with brain tumors treated with proton radiotherapy. J Clin Oncol. 2012;30(17):2079-2086.
  13. MacDonald SM, Trofimov A, Safai S, et al. Proton radiotherapy for pediatric central nervous system germ cell tumors: early clinical outcomes. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011;79(1):121-129.
  14. Moeller BJ, Chintagumpala M, Philip JJ, et al. Low early ototoxicity rates for pediatric medulloblastoma patients treated with proton radiotherapy. Radiat Oncol. 2011;6:58.
  15. Thorp N. Proton therapy for children. RAD Magazine. 2010;36(418):17-18.
  16. Rutz HP, Weber DC, Goitein G, et al. Postoperative spot-scanning proton radiation therapy for chordoma and chondrosarcoma in children and adolescents: initial experience at Paul Scherrer Institute. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008;71(1):220-225.
  17. MacDonald SM, Safai S, Trofimov A, et al. Proton radiotherapy for childhood ependymoma: initial clinical outcomes and dose comparisons. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008;71(4):979-986.
  18. Timmermann B, Schuck A, Niggli F, et al. Spot-scanning proton therapy for malignant soft tissue tumors in childhood: first experiences at the Paul Scherrer Institute. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2007;67(2):497-504.
  19. Luu QT, Loredo LN, Archambeau JO, Yonemoto LT, Slater JM, Slater JD. Fractionated proton radiation treatment for pediatric craniopharyngioma: preliminary report. Cancer J. 2006;12(2):155-159.
  20. Lee CT, Bilton SD, Famiglietti RM, Riley BA, Mahajan A, Chang EL, et al. Treatment planning with protons for pediatric retinoblastoma, medulloblastoma, and pelvic sarcoma: how do protons compare with other conformal techniques? Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2005, 63(2):362-372.
  21. Lundkvist J, Ekman M, Ericsson SR, Jönsson B, Glimelius B. Cost-effectiveness of proton radiation in the treatment of childhood medulloblastoma. Cancer. 2005b;103(4):793-801.
  22. Mu X, Bjork-Erikkson T, Nill S, Oelfke U, Johansson KA, Gagliardi G, et al. Does electron and proton therapy reduce the risk of radiation induced cancer after spinal irradiation for childhood medulloblastoma? A comparative treatment planning study. Acta Oncol. 2005, 44(6):554-562.
  23. Yock TI, Tarbell NJ. Technology insight: proton beam radiotherapy for treatment in pediatric brain tumors. Nat Clin Pract Oncol. 2004;1(2):97-103.
  24. Yuh GE, Loredo LN, Yonemoto LT, Bush DA, Shahnazi K, Preston W, Slater JM, Slater JD. Reducing toxicity from craniospinal irradiation: using proton beams to treat medulloblastoma in young children. Cancer J. 2004;10(6):386-390.
  25. St Clair WH, Adams JA, Bues M, Fullerton BC, La Shell S, Kooy HM, et al. Advantage of protons compared to conventional X-ray or IMRT in the treatment of a pediatric patient with medulloblastoma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2004, 58(3):727-734.
  26. Noël G, Habrand J-L, Helfre S, et al. Proton beam therapy in the management of central nervous system tumors in childhood: the preliminary experience of the Centre de Protonthérapie d'Orsay. Med Pediatr Oncol. 2003;40(5):309-315.
  27. Hug EB, Muenter MW, Adams JA, De Vries A, Rosenberg AE, Munzenrider JE. 3-D-conformal radiation therapy for pediatric giant cell tumors of the skull base. Strahlenther Onkol. 2002;178(5):239-244.
  28. Hug EB, Muenter MW, Archambeau JO, et al. Conformal proton radiation therapy for pediatric low-grade astrocytomas. Strahlenther Onkol. 2002;178(1):10-17.
  29. Miralbell R, Lomax A, Cella L, Schneider U. Potential reduction of the incidence of radiation-induced second cancers by using proton beams in the treatment of pediatric tumors. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2002, 54(3):824-829.
  30. McAllister B, Archambeau JO, Nguyen MC, et al. Proton therapy for pediatric cranial tumors: preliminary report on treatment and disease-related morbidities. Int J Radiat Oncol Phys. 1997;39(2):455-460.
  31. Miralbell R, Lomax A, Bortfeld T, Rouzaud MM, Carrie C. Potential role of proton therapy in the treatment of pediatric eduolloblastoma/primitive neuroectodermal tumors: reduction of the supratentorial target volume. Int J Radiot Oncol Biol Phys. 1997, 38(3):477-484.
Secondary Malignancy Risk
  1. Chung CS, Yock TI, Nelson K, Xu Y, Keating NL, Tarbell NJ. Incidence of second malignancies among patients treated with proton versus photon radiation. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2013;87(1):46-52.
  2. Basit S. Athar, Harald Paganetti, Comparison of second cancer risk due to out-of-field doses from 6-MV IMRT and proton therapy based on 6 pediatric patient treatment plans, Radiotherapy and Oncology, Volume 98, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 87-92, ISSN 0167-8140.
  3. Myonggeun Yoon, Sung Hwan Ahn, Jinsung Kim, Dong Ho Shin, Sung Yong Park, Se Byeong Lee, Kyung Hwan Shin, Kwan Ho Cho, Radiation-Induced Cancers From Modern Radiotherapy Techniques: Intensity-Modulated Radiotherapy Versus Proton Therapy, International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, Volume 77, Issue 5, 1 August 2010, Pages 1477-1485, ISSN 0360-3016.
  4. Jonas D. Fontenot, Andrew K. Lee, Wayne D. Newhauser, Risk of Secondary Malignant Neoplasms From Proton Therapy and Intensity-Modulated X-Ray Therapy for Early-Stage Prostate Cancer, International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, Volume 74, Issue 2, 1 June 2009, Pages 616-622, ISSN 0360-3016.
  5. Schneider U, Lomax A, Pemler P, Besserer J, Ross D, Lombriser N, et al. The impact of IMRT and proton radiotherapy on secondary cancer incidence. Strahlenther Onkol. 2006, 182(11):647-652.
  6. "ALARA" principle mandating that radiation doses be kept “as low as reasonably achievable”. National Institute of Environmental Health Science Press Release. 31 January, 2005 NIEHS PR #05-01.
  7. Raymond Miralbell, Antony Lomax, Laura Cella, Uwe Schneider, Potential reduction of the incidence of radiation-induced second cancers by using proton beams in the treatment of pediatric tumors, International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, Volume 54, Issue 3, 1 November 2002, Pages 824-829, ISSN 0360-3016,.
  8. Schneider, U., Lomax, A., Lombriser, N. Comparative risk assessment of secondary cancer incidence after treatment of Hodgkin's disease with photon and proton radiation (2000) Radiation Research, 154 (4), pp. 382-388.
  1. Andolino DL, Hoene T, Xiao L, Buchsbaum J, Chang AL. Dosimetric comparison of involved-field three-dimensional conformal photon radiotherapy and breast-sparing proton therapy for the treatment of Hodgkin’s lymphoma in female pediatric patients. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011 Nov 15;81(4):e667-71.
Intracranial (Brain)
  1. Hill-Kayser C, Tochner Z, Both S, et al. Proton versus photon radiation therapy for patients with high-risk neuroblastoma: the need for a customized approach. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2013;60(10):1606-1611.
  2. Hattangadi JA, Rombi B, Yock TI, et al. Proton radiotherapy for high-risk pediatric neuroblastoma: early outcomes and dose comparison. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2012;83(3):1015-1022.
  3. Fuss M, Hug EB, Schaefer RA, Nevinny-Stickel M, Miller DW, Slater JM, Slater JD. Proton radiation therapy (PRT) for pediatric optic pathway gliomas: comparison with 3D planned conventional photons and a standard photon technique. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 1999;45(5):1117-1126.
Skull Base
  1. Habrand J-L, Schneider R, Alapetite C, et al. Proton therapy in pediatric skull base and cervical canal low-grade bone malignancies. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2008;71(3):672-675.
Head and Neck
  1. Oshiro Y, Sugahara S, Fukushima T, et al. Pediatric nasopharyngeal carcinoma treated with proton beam therapy. Two case reports. Acta Oncol. 2011;50(3):470-473.
  1. Holtzman A, Flampouri S, Li Z, Mendenhall NP, Hoppe BS. Proton therapy in a pediatric patient with stage III Hodgkin lymphoma. Acta Oncol. 2013 Apr;52(3):592-4.
  1. Hattangadi J, Esty B, Winey B, Duigenan S, Huang M, Tock T. Radiation recall myositis in pediatric Ewing sarcoma. Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2012;59(3):570-572.
  2. Cotter SE, Herrup DA, Friedmann A, et al. Proton radiotherapy for pediatric bladder/prostate rhabdomyosarcoma: clinical outcomes and dosimetry compared to intensity-modulated radiation therapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2011;81(5):1367-1373.
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