Long-term cognitive and academic outcomes among pediatric brain tumor survivors treated with proton versus photon radiotherapy

Pediatr Blood Cancer. 2021 Sep;68(9):e29125. doi: 10.1002/pbc.29125. Epub 2021 Jun 11.


Background: Proton radiotherapy (PRT) may be associated with less neurocognitive risk than photon RT (XRT) for pediatric brain tumor survivors. We compared neurocognitive and academic outcomes in long-term survivors treated with XRT versus PRT.

Methods: Survivors underwent neurocognitive evaluation >1 year after craniospinal (CSI) or focal PRT or XRT. Groups were compared using separate one-way analyses of covariance for the CSI and focal groups.

Results: PRT (n = 58) and XRT (n = 30) subgroups were similar on gender (66% male), age at RT (median = 6.5 years), age at follow-up (median = 14.6 years), and government assistance status (32%). PRT and XRT focal groups differed on follow-up interval, shunt history, and total RT dose (all p < .05), whereas PRT and XRT CSI groups differed on follow-up interval, baseline neurocognitive performance score, boost volume, and CSI dose (all p < .05). The PRT focal group outperformed the XRT focal group on inhibition/switching (p = .04). The PRT CSI group outperformed the XRT CSI group on inattention/impulsivity (both p < .05). Several clinical variables (i.e., RT dose, boost field, baseline performance) predicted neurocognitive outcomes (all p < .05). The PRT focal group performed comparably to population means on most neurocognitive measures, while both CSI groups performed below expectation on multiple measures. The XRT CSI group was most impaired. All groups fell below expectation on processing speed, fine motor, and academic fluency (most p < .01).

Conclusions: Findings suggest generally favorable neurocognitive and academic long-term outcomes following focal PRT. Impairment was greatest following CSI regardless of modality. Dosimetry and baseline characteristics are important determinants of outcome alone or in combination with modality.

Keywords: academic; brain tumor; neurocognitive; pediatric; radiation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain Neoplasms* / radiotherapy
  • Cancer Survivors / psychology*
  • Child
  • Cognition*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Photons
  • Proton Therapy*