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March 30th 2018

The Benefit of Proton Therapy for Children in Developing Countries

About 80% of children with the most common pediatric brain cancer live in low- and middle-income countries. There they have little access to advanced radiotherapies, such as proton therapy, to reduce treatment side effects. Dr. Phil Taddei explores challenges of this missed benefit in a commentary.

Medulloblastoma is a type of brain cancer that has a high probability of treatment-related side effects later in life, such as abnormal growth of tissue in parts of the body, or new cancers caused by the radiation. These side effects, especially in children, can be severe, chronic and sometimes fatal, and can be reduced with proton beam radiation that is mostly unavailable in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).   Phil Taddei, Ph.D., is the lead author of a research study that aimed to quantify the missed benefit for children in a LMIC with no access to proton therapy.

Dr. Taddei and team conducted their study by mathematically modeling the radiation dose to normal tissues and thereby predicting the risk of treatment-induced new and different cancers for children treated with conventional X-ray therapy at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, Lebanon, a LMIC, which does not have access to proton therapy.  The researchers compared the subsequent cancer risk to that of children who were treated with proton therapy at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

The study shows that with protons therapy the risk of new cancer can be reduced by about half, and a child’s risk of dying from new cancer that develops later in life, is reduced by almost half.  Children who are treated in the U.S. and other countries for medulloblastoma with proton therapy therefore likely live longer healthier lives than children in LMICs.  “This gap can be bridged by making proton therapy available to children in LMICs by centralized care in facilities abroad or regional centers developed within LMICs.” says Taddei.

“Although the outcomes and side effects are so much better in the U.S., much more work is needed in the U.S. to further reduce the radiation dose to normal organs and tissues without compromising the chance of cure.”  Dr. Taddei has established a strong research relationship and collaboration with the American University of Beirut Medical Center and conduct on-going research.

To read Dr. Taddei’s commentary as highlighted in Medical Physics Web, please click here. For more information on this research published in the Biomedical Physics & Engineering Express journal by Dr. Taddei and co-workers, please click here.  For more information on the Proton Therapy Treatment, please click here.

Dr. Taddei is an Assistant Professor and Medical Physicist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Washington. His research interests are to understand the whole body radiation doses for patients receiving either photon, proton, or neutron radiotherapy and apply this knowledge to predict risks of long-term effects; especially in children with cancer, so to improve their care.  To learn more about Dr. Taddei’s clinical work, research and publications, please click here.