Oct 13, 2021 4:00 PM

Read Time: 3 minutes

Author: Carley Lehauli

Photo of Matthew Poppe, MD
Matthew Poppe, MD

Matthew Poppe, MD, physician-scientist at Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) and associate professor of radiation oncology at the University of Utah, received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to advance his research in the treatment of pediatric cancers using different types of radiation therapy: proton therapy and photon therapy.

About half of all cancer patients receive radiation therapy, which uses concentrated beams of energy to shrink a tumor. The two primary types of radiation therapy used in cancer treatment include photon therapy and a newer type of radiation called proton therapy. In photon therapy, the beam of energy passes through the tumor and out the body. In proton therapy, the beam of energy stops in the tumor rather than exiting through the body, delivering less radiation to the healthy tissue beyond the tumor.

One of the most common and serious medical problems that happens following pediatric radiation therapy is the development of secondary cancers. Doctors want to understand whether proton therapy delivers better outcomes and fewer secondary cancers.

To date, few studies have evaluated potential benefits or risks of photon therapy compared to proton therapy in children. HCI opened the first proton therapy center in the region earlier this year and began treating adult and pediatric patients, while continuing to offer traditional radiation therapy as well. The addition of a proton therapy facility means HCI can now contribute to research about which type of radiation is most effective for different types of cancer. 

This grant will allow HCI to contribute data to a national database of pediatric cancer patient outcomes. “We are one of only 20 members of the U.S. Pediatric Proton Consortium Registry, which collects outcome and toxicity results on kids treated with proton radiation,” says Poppe. “In order to make the registry more effective, the National Institutes of Health has selected a few institutions to contribute treatment data from prior years.”

As one of those institutions, HCI will provide insights from 14 years of treating pediatric patients with photon radiation therapy.

“The award serves as a recognition from the NCI of the excellence in pediatric cancer care here at HCI and Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital,” says Poppe. “HCI researchers will help advance this important tool to guide our understanding of how we can deliver the safest, most effective radiation therapy for pediatric cancer patients.”

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About Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah

Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah is the official cancer center of Utah and the only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Mountain West. The campus includes a state-of-the-art cancer specialty hospital and two buildings dedicated to cancer research. Huntsman Cancer Institute provides patient care, cancer screening, and education at community clinics and affiliate hospitals throughout the Mountain West. It is consistently recognized among the best cancer hospitals in the country by U.S. News and World Report. The region’s first proton therapy center opened in 2021 and a major hospital expansion is underway. Huntsman Cancer Institute is committed to creating a diverse and inclusive environment for staff, students, patients, and communities. Advancing cancer research discoveries and treatments to meet the needs of patients who live far away from a major medical center is a unique focus. More genes for inherited cancers have been discovered at Huntsman Cancer Institute than at any other cancer center, including genes responsible for breast, ovarian, colon, head and neck cancers, and melanoma. Huntsman Cancer Institute was founded by Jon M. and Karen Huntsman.

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