When it comes to fighting pediatric brain tumors there is a new promising therapy being announced. Proton Beam Therapy has just recently become available at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Just across the street from this hospital is a cutting-edge radiation oncology facility, Roberts Proton Therapy Center, that is announcing availability of this new therapy. Not only does it combat brain tumors, but may also be effective in other cancers of the head, neck, heart, lungs and spinal cord – which are all sites next to vital organs.
CBS News brought this to light recently when doing a piece on two-year-old Addison Keegan. Four months ago she had surgery to remove a brain tumor, which was benign, and received Proton Beam Therapy. She has received 30 treatments and is showing no side effects so far. The tumor is gone and she is doing great. She does have to return for brain scans periodically, but is running around and playing like a normal two-year-old.
Proton Beam Therapy is new to pediatric solid tumors, such as brain tumors, but it is not new to fighting adult tumors. It has been used for years on adults. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is the first dedicated to children with this therapy. It may take a decade to have enough evidence gathered to see if it is working properly.
Proton Beam Therapy is not like normal radiation. The normal radiation we know of goes through the tumor and into healthy tissues potentially causing severe damage to several areas effecting growth, hearing, vision and cognition. These after-effects could become devastating and a lifelong disability. Proton Beam Therapy is supposed to cause less damage to healthy tissues. It stops just beyond the tumor and should not affect the healthy tissue in the area. It is being thought of as the new “standard of the future for pediatric brain tumors,” accordingly to Dr. Robert Lustig of the University of Pennsylvania Hospital. It is being assumed that less radiation means less side effects, which makes sense. Of course time will tell.
To receive treatments, patients lie on a table in an area called a gantry that spins 360 degrees so that the patient receives the proton beams from multiple angles. It is the goal to have these beams come within one millimeter of the tumor. Currently, in the United States there are only seven proton therapy facilities and The Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia is the first for children. It is ranked number one in the U.S. News & World Report in cancer care in children in America.
Due to the expense of Proton Beam Therapy insurance companies are only paying for it on a case-by-case basis. It is covered by Medicare and Medicaid. Proton Beam Therapy is averaging around $100,000. This is considerably more expensive than traditional therapy which averaged around $30,000. Hopefully as this therapy becomes more common more insurance companies will help with coverage and it will not have to be on a case-by-case basis.