Pediatric Cancers

Pediatric Cancers

Childhood cancer is relatively rare. That’s why it’s critical that you choose a treatment center than can offer the experience and expertise in pediatric cancers that you’ll find at Seattle Children’s, one of Seattle Cancer Care Alliance’s three founding organizations. Seattle Children’s treats more pediatric cancer patients than any other institution in the Northwest. 

The multidisciplinary cancer care team at Seattle Children’s is led by some of the most highly regarded pediatric medical oncologists in the world. In 2014, U.S. News & World Report ranked Seattle Children’s Cancer Center the 7th best in the U.S. Learn more about the full range of pediatric cancer care that we provide.

Seattle Children’s brings together experts from many fields to decide the best treatment course for each child. Your team will include pediatric oncologists, radiation oncologists, nurse practitioners, surgeons, other physician specialists, nurses, child life specialists, and social workers—working alongside you, your child, and your family.

Your Seattle Children’s care team will partner with you to provide skilled, family-centered care and compassionate support. We are dedicated to helping you understand the treatment options available to your family—and providing the comprehensive services, including leading-edge therapies like proton therapy, that will give your child the best options to survive cancer and live a long, healthy life.

The Benefits of Proton Therapy for Pediatric Cancers

Proton therapy is an important treatment tool for SCCA and Seattle Children’s cancer care team. Children are on a fast track in terms of their growth and development, and that growth makes them especially vulnerable to side effects from radiation treatment. In using radiation therapy to treat children, it’s imperative that radiation effects on healthy tissue are minimized. 

Radiation, though it plays an essential role in treating many childhood cancers, can be associated with short- and long-term side effects. Proton therapy is particularly well suited to many pediatric tumors because it can precisely target tumors near or within sensitive organs while minimizing radiation exposure to healthy tissue—reducing the risk of both short- and long-term side effects. It treats the tumors effectively but with less radiation going to healthy tissue that does not need radiation.  

Studies show that by sparing more healthy tissue in children’s developing bodies, side effects on growing bones, brain function, hearing, and the heart and many other organs often can be reduced and sometimes eliminated when protons are used in place of conventional radiation. Proton therapy is also expected to reduce the risk of developing a new tumor later in life because of radiation treatment. 

The ability of proton therapy to spare healthy tissues also means that short-term side effects can be avoided or reduced. Simply put, children tend to tolerate this treatment better than conventional radiation therapy.

Every cancer is different; radiation oncologists base their recommendations on which type of radiation therapy to use on many factors, including the location of the tumor and the cancer type.

It’s important to remember that the treatment advantages of protons for some pediatric cancers are not the only consideration for families. Whether or not your family has to travel a significant distance for your child to receive this therapy, many economic, and logistical factors come into play. Your family should explore all your treatment alternatives with your treatment team.

Pediatric cancers that can be treated with proton therapy include:

  • Astrocytoma and other gliomas, including optic pathway/hypothalamic glioma
  • Atypical Teratoid/Rhadboid Tumors
  • Choriocarcinoma
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Ependymoma
  • Ewing’s Sarcoma
  • Head and neck cancers such as nasopharyngiomas and juvenile angiofibromas
  • Intracranial germ cell tumors (germinoma)
  • Lymphoma
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Meningioma
  • Neuroblastoma
  • Osteosarcoma and other sarcomas
  • Primitive neuro-ectodermal tumor 
  • Retinoblastoma
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma

The length of treatment for each cancer varies; it typically covers a period of three to six weeks, with treatment five days a week. Prior to treatment, families will need to be in the Seattle area for an additional two weeks as part of the initial consultation and treatment planning process.

Clinical Studies on Protons and Pediatric Cancers 

Many of our doctors lead studies offered through our membership in the Children’s Oncology Group, a national research cooperative whose aim is to advance cancer treatment for children. We offer participation in pediatric national clinical trials as an option for our patients. Many of these national clinical trials that include radiation treatment allow for the child to be treated with proton radiation. If your child is participating in a national clinical trial, he or she probably can continue to be treated on that trial and receive proton radiation.

Our goal at SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center is to have every child participate in research to help establish how proton therapy affects cancer treatment outcomes. Patients and their families will be offered the chance to participate in observational studies (where the patient receives the same proton therapy as any other patient, but researchers will study long-term outcomes in greater detail) as well as studies where innovations in radiation treatments are studied. 

Existing research provides a foundation for the benefits of treating children with many tumor types with proton therapy; our research will aim to build on that foundation to further study long-term outcomes and examine improved treatment techniques.

We plan to collaborate on our research with other institutions in multi-institutional trials; we are also planning trials that will be unique to SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center

Seattle Children’s: Your “Home” for Cancer Treatment in Seattle 

A strong advantage for families is SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center’s relationship with Seattle Children’s. SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center is one of just a handful of proton centers in the U.S. that is integrated with a world-class pediatric hospital. We’ve made this commitment to every child undergoing proton therapy here: Regardless of who your primary provider of pediatric oncology services may be, your child will have a medical home at Seattle Children’s. Through Seattle Children’s your child will have access to nationally regarded medical oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, and other physician specialists who are available should their expertise be called for.

This is a full partnership. For example, pediatric anesthesiologists from Seattle Children’s perform any required anesthesiology for children undergoing treatment at SCCA Proton Therapy, A ProCure Center. And our pediatric radiation oncologist, Ralph Ermoian, MD, is board-certified in General Pediatrics. Dr. Ermoian is the only radiation oncologist with a practice devoted mainly to pediatric cancer patients in Washington, Alaska, Montana, and Idaho. 

Our entire pediatric team understands the special needs of children with cancer. We’re here to help make the treatment process as effective and manageable as possible.