Second tumor risk in children treated with proton therapy

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2021 Jul;68(7):e28941. doi: 10.1002/pbc.28941. Epub 2021 Feb 9.


Background: Out-of-field neutron dissemination during double-scattered proton therapy has raised concerns of increased second malignancies, disproportionally affecting pediatric patients due to the proportion of body exposed to scatter dose and inherent radiosensitivity of developing tissue. We sought to provide empiric data on the incidence of early second tumors.

Methods: Between 2006 and 2019, 1713 consecutive children underwent double-scattered proton therapy. Median age at treatment was 9.1 years; 371 were ≤3 years old. Thirty-seven patients (2.2%) had tumor predisposition syndromes. Median prescription dose was 54 Gy (range 15-75.6). Median follow-up was 3.3 years (range 0.1-12.8), including 6587 total person-years. Five hundred forty-nine patients had ≥5 years of follow-up. A second tumor was defined as any solid neoplasm throughout the body.

Results: Eleven patients developed second tumors; the 5- and 10-year cumulative incidences were 0.8% (95% CI, 0.4-1.9%) and 3.1% (95% CI, 1.5-6.2%), respectively. Using age- and gender-specific data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program, the standardized incidence ratio was 13.5; the absolute excess risk was 1.5/1000 person-years. All but one patient who developed second tumors were irradiated at ≤5 years old (p < .0005). There was also a statistically significant correlation between patients with tumor predisposition syndromes and second tumors (p < .0001). Excluding patients with tumor predisposition syndromes, 5- and 10-year rates were 0.6% (95% CI, 0.2-1.7%) and 1.7% (95% CI, 0.7-4.0%), respectively, with all five malignant second tumors occurring in the high-dose region.

Conclusion: Second tumors are rare within the decade following double-scattered proton therapy, particularly among children irradiated at >5 years old and those without tumor predisposition syndrome.

Keywords: particle therapy; pediatric; radiation therapy; second malignancies; treatment toxicity.

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Neoplasms* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary* / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms, Second Primary* / etiology
  • Proton Therapy* / adverse effects
  • Syndrome