Proton Therapy for Children
Explore This Treatment Program
MassGeneral Hospital for Children’s Department of Radiation Oncology provides radiation therapy to treat a variety of tumors in children using the most current techniques available. The Mass General Department of Radiation Oncology was the first proton center in the United States to pioneer proton radiotherapy in the pediatric population and has been treating children with fractionated proton radiotherapy since 1974.
The goal of radiation therapy is to destroy or shrink tumor cells without damaging surrounding healthy tissue, often together with surgery and/or chemotherapy depending on the tumor that we are treating.
Radiation plans are custom designed for each patient in order to target the tumor with maximum sparing of healthy tissue. At Mass General we have access to many types of radiation including photons, electrons, and protons. Proton therapy is the most common form of radiation used to treat pediatric patients at Mass General.
An integral part of one of the world’s most distinguished medical centers, Mass General’s Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center represents the forefront of technological advances in radiation therapy coupled with expert, comprehensive, and compassionate family-centered care. We employ image guidance with all of our proton treatments and use both passively scattered 3D conformal proton radiotherapy as well as pencil beam scanning. Proton radiosurgery is also readily available. Proton radiation therapy is unique, because more than any other type of radiation, protons allow radiation to be directed to a very limited area, which reduces potential damage to nearby healthy tissues. This is particularly useful for certain tumor types in children where long-term effects on growth and development are very important. Children’s bodies are more vulnerable to the effects of radiation, so any healthy tissue that can be spared becomes vital.
In addition to proton therapy, MassGeneral Hospital for Children also provides state-of-the-art stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS), stereotactic radiation therapy (SRT), and intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). In all types of radiation, our radiation oncologists work with clinical physicists to bring the latest technological developments to our patients, from respiratory or cardiac gating, to cone-beam CT, and adaptive radiotherapeutic planning. Treatment plans are created using the most advanced computing and imaging techniques. Our radiation oncologists and physicists have access to a complete array of devices to carefully administer radiation to target tissues while minimizing radiation exposure to uninvolved tissue.
Multidisciplinary Treatment for Complex Diagnoses
We understand that having a sick child is stressful for the child, parents, siblings and other family members. It is our goal to provide the highest quality care, while considering the unique needs of children with cancer and their families. For this reason, we have a multidisciplinary team approach. Our experienced and dynamic team includes specialists in pediatric oncology, pediatric radiation oncology, pediatric surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric neuroradiology, pediatric neurology, pediatric anesthesia, pediatric rehabilitation, pediatric nursing, social work, child life, and other support staff. Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the Katherine Gallagher Integrative Therapies Program which offers wellness services, free of charge, including music, art, massage, and acupuncture. These wonderful activities are open to patients and their families.
Pediatric Oncology: The doctors in the Division of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology at MassGeneral Hospital for Children are our close partners in caring for our pediatric patients who come for proton radiotherapy, since many require chemotherapy during radiation treatment. Our pediatric colleagues provide personalized multidisciplinary, state-of-the-art care to children of all ages.
Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital has a 12-bed private room pediatric unit which regularly treats our children who are in need of intensive inpatient rehabilitation. Commonly, children will be getting intensive rehabilitation while still getting their daily radiation treatments. The clinicians at Spaulding are experts in Posterior Fossa Syndrome as well as other neurological effects that can track with brain and spinal cord tumors. One parent at a time may stay overnight for as long as needed, and we have a welcoming visitation policy for family members, siblings and peers.
MassGeneral Hospital for Children Inpatient Facilities: Children admitted to the hospital for an overnight visit will stay in the Ellison Building at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. General medical and surgical-care patients stay on the 17th or 18th floor, complete with child- and adolescent-friendly rooms, playrooms and lounges. Each room also is equipped with a bathroom, shower and television. Laptop computers and game consoles also are available on inpatient floors. Each floor has a kitchen and laundry services for extended stays. Parents may stay overnight with their child in the room. See a video introduction to Ellison 17 or Ellison 18, including who’s who on staff and accommodations for parents and guardians staying overnight with children.
State-of-the-Art Facilities in a World-Renowned Academic Medical Center
The Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital is the original proton therapy center in the United States. The proton radiation program builds on more than forty years of pioneering work and experience gained by physicians, physicists, researchers and clinical support staff at Harvard University’s Cyclotron Laboratory. In the 1960’s, the Harvard Cyclotron Laboratory was one of the world’s first facilities to explore the use of protons in the treatment of patients with cancer. More than 9,000 patients were treated from 1961 to its closing in 2002. Fully operational in 2001, the new proton facility, the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center, was made possible by funding from Massachusetts General Hospital and the National Cancer Institute. Additionally, due to the success of the proton radiotherapy program, we will be opening a fourth proton treatment room in Fall 2018.
Treatment is available for pediatric brain tumors, including:
- Medulloblastoma and PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor)
- Low- and high-grade gliomas (including pilocytic astrocytomas and other astrocytic varients)
- Central nervous system germ cell tumors (including germinoma)
- Other more rare pediatric brain tumors
As well as other pediatric tumors outside of the central nervous system, including:
- Bone sarcomas
- Ewing’s sarcoma
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other lymphomas
- Other rare pediatric tumors that may benefit from proton radiotherapy
Support for Families
At MassGeneral Hospital for Children, we know that the time of your child’s diagnosis and treatment is a very stressful one, and we strive to provide an open, welcoming environment. We believe that no one knows a child as well as the parent does: parents, along with primary care providers, become our partners in a child’s care and have an active voice in all treatment plans.
We believe it is important to have a comfortable place to for families to call home if they need to temporarily relocate for the duration of treatment. We understand what a stressful and overwhelming time this often is. Our team can help you find a place to stay, set up a tutor, and learn your way around Boston.
Answers to questions parents and guardians frequently have about their child's treatment.
Help for families that need to relocate to Boston during their child's treatment.
Proton Therapy Videos
From inspiring stories of current and former patients to explanations of how proton therapy works, our videos offer you insight into the world of proton therapy.