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Pediatric Proton Therapy: What to Expect

Read Time: 3 minutes

A pediatric proton therapy patient and mom meets with child life specialist prior to treatment
A pediatric proton therapy patient and mom meets with child life specialist prior to treatment

If your child will be getting proton therapy as part of their cancer treatment, you may wonder what to expect. Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy, which uses targeted beams to kill cancer cells. Proton therapy beams are made up of particles called protons, instead of photons or electrons used in other radiation treatment beams.

You and your child will work with a radiation oncology team at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) throughout your child’s treatment. The radiation oncology team will be with you every step of the way and can answer any questions you have.

Here is an overview of what happens before and during pediatric proton therapy treatments.

Before Pediatric Proton Therapy Treatment Begins

  • Consult visit. Before starting treatment, you and your child will meet with your child’s radiation oncologist and radiation oncology team for a pre-treatment or consult visit.
    • The radiation oncology team includes a child life specialist who provides support to kids with cancer and their families. The child life specialist will explain to your child what they will see, hear, and feel during treatments.
    • Your child’s doctor will go over the specific treatment plan. Proton therapy is typically about 12–30 daily treatments.
    • The radiation oncology team will talk about whether your child needs sedation or anesthesia so they can remain safe and still during the treatment.
  • Simulation visit. A simulation visit is the planning stage of proton therapy. It gives the radiation oncology team the imaging information they need to plan your child’s treatment.
    • Your child life specialist will make sure your child is prepared for the simulation by showing pictures and explaining what will happen step by step.
    • At the simulation visit, your child will have a CT scan to take pictures of the inside of the body.
    • If young patients need help holding still during simulation and treatment, we will administer some sedation or general anesthesia.
    • Depending on which part of the body is being treated, your child may need to have a plastic mask, pillow, or bean bag mold made. These devices are usually made during the simulation visit.

Pediatric Proton Therapy Treatment Sessions

Treatment usually starts two to three weeks after the simulation visit. Here’s what to expect during treatment sessions.

  • Your child will usually have five treatments per week, one per day.
  • Each week, you will have an on-treatment visit (OTV). The radiation oncologist will meet with you to see how your child is doing and to make sure side effects are being managed as best as possible.
  • The treatment machine makes some sounds when it moves. But your child won’t feel or see anything unusual when the proton beam is on.
  • Parents can go with their children to the treatment room and get their children situated, but they will need to leave the room before treatment begins. No one besides the patient can be in the radiation room when the treatment is being delivered.
  • A child life specialist can provide emotional support and coaching cues before the treatment.

After Proton Therapy Sessions

  • Your child may experience radiation therapy side effects in the area of the tumor. Your child’s care team will talk to you about possible side effects and how those side effects can be managed.

If you have any questions about pediatric proton therapy treatment, talk to your child’s radiation oncology team. You can also contact the Cancer Learning Center if you have questions about proton therapy or any cancer topic.

Cancer touches all of us.