Proton therapy for kids

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- More than 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer in the U.S. each year. Many of them will need radiation to destroy their tumors, but side effects can be scary. Now, a more precise form of the treatment that's been used in adults is also helping kids.

Four-year-old James and his twin sister Eleni have big plans for the future.

James told ABC30, "I want to go to outer space!"

But James' first mission on Earth is to get better. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor when he was 3.

Kathy Contes, James' mother, told ABC30, "The way that we understand it is the tumor was spreading with its fingers around the optic nerves."

James had two craniotomies to remove the tumor but he still needed radiation, a therapy that can cause harsh side effects, even memory or vision loss.

Andrew L. Chang, M.D., Radiation Oncologist at Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego, California told ABC30, "Children are especially susceptible to the side effects of radiation therapy because their bodies are still growing and developing."

But doctors offered James proton radiation. It uses a beam of protons rather than X-rays to kill cancerous and non-cancerous tumors.

"Proton radiation is like a target rifle. It allows us to pinpoint just where we're going to give the radiation," Dr. Chang explained.

Doctors mapped out James' tumor and made 3D models. Then they used the proton radiation to precisely target the tumor, without affecting surrounding healthy tissue. That means fewer side effects.

James exclaimed, "We're going to ring the bell!"

After seven weeks of radiation, James gets to ring a bell to celebrate his last treatment.

Kathy told ABC30, "I'm feeling very hopeful."

For now, James' mission is accomplished.

Dr. Chang says there's greater than a 90 percent chance that James' tumor will not come back. Patients typically undergo the proton radiation five days a week for six to seven weeks at a time. With young patients, doctors use anesthesia to keep them calm and still during treatment.

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Steve Carpowhich
Public Relations Manager

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