Purpose of review: The advent of proton beam therapy (PBT) has initiated a paradigm shift in the field of pediatric radiation oncology, with increasing promise to alleviate both short-term and long-term toxicities. Given the dramatic rise in proton therapy centers in the United States, a discussion of the quality of evidence supporting its use in pediatric cancers is warranted.
Recent findings: Proton radiotherapy appears to decrease the incidence and severity of late effects with the strongest evidence in pediatric brain tumor cohorts that shows benefits in neurocognitive, hearing, and endocrine outcomes. However, emerging data has shown that more conservative brainstem dose limits with protons compared with photons are required to limit brainstem toxicity; these modified recommendations have been incorporated into national cooperative group studies. Decreased toxicity in tumors outside of the CNS for PBT have also been reported in sarcomas, Hodgkin disease and neuroblastoma. Similarly, QoL outcomes are improved in brain tumor and other cohorts of patients treated with PBT.
Summary: The collective findings demonstrate improved understanding and refinement of PBT in pediatric cancers. Data on QOL, toxicity and disease outcomes with PBT should continue to be collected and reported in order to understand the full extent of the risks and benefits associated with PBT.