Proton Therapy for Your Child

Finding out your child has cancer can be heartbreaking. We are here to give your child every opportunity to live a healthy, normal life. While this time can be extremely emotional, it’s important to stay informed about your treatment options. The good news is that advances in treatment methods and technology have significantly improved outcomes both for cure and long-term quality of life. Proton therapy, in particular, is associated with minimal long-term side effects as a result of the precision and how the radiation conforms to the shape of the tumor.

The Northwestern Medicine Proton Center works in affiliation with Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago, one of the top ranked cancer treatment centers in the nation for treating pediatric cancer, to provide the best treatment options for our mutual pediatric patients.

We offer the following for pediatric patients through our cancer treatment centers and affiliations:

Clinical Specialties

  • Hematology oncology
  • Radiation oncology
  • Surgical oncology
  • Pediatric anesthesia / critical care
  • Specialized nurses

Supportive Services

  • Dedicated child life specialist
  • Social work
  • Nutrition
  • Physical therapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Speech therapy

The Proton Center is one of the few proton therapy centers throughout the Midwest and the only one in Illinois. Our team is dedicated to explaining all of your child’s treatment options and facilitating a conversation with his or her physician or oncologist to determine the best course of treatment.

To learn if you can benefit from proton therapy, call 1.877.887.5807 or fill out our online form.

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Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago at Northwestern Medicine CDH and Delnor Hospital logo
Northwestern Medicine Proton Center provides proton therapy for pediatric patients.
Watch a Video: Proton Therapy for Pediatric Patients To learn more about other tumor types, visit our Video Library.

Learn about the Pediatric Neuro-oncology Clinic

Advantages of Proton Therapy for Pediatric Patients

Proton therapy is generally preferred for treating solid tumors in children because it delivers less radiation to normal tissues, which helps to prevent serious complications and causes fewer short- and long-term side effects.2,3 The following diagram shows the difference in radiation dose between protons and the most sophisticated form of X-ray radiation (IMRT) in treating a common pediatric cancer, medulloblastoma. Proton therapy delivers less radiation to the heart, lungs, abdomen and esophagus for pediatric patients with medulloblastoma. Less radiation to these critical organs reduces the likelihood that patients will experience adverse effects years after treatment.1

A number of side effects can result with the use of standard X-ray radiation therapy for pediatric brain tumors.1,4 Research has shown that proton therapy may significantly reduce the likelihood of developmental and growth delays, reductions in IQ, and other complications that often occur with standard X-ray radiation (such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy – IMRT).5

Proton Center

Studies Show Safer than Standard X-ray

Children are more prone to secondary tumors than adults, and the risk is related to the amount of tissue irradiated. Studies show that using proton therapy to control pediatric tumors provides excellent results while reducing damage to healthy tissue and reducing the likelihood of cancers occurring at other sites in the body.1,2,4

It can be estimated that even with the most sophisticated form of X-ray radiation, such as IMRT, the risk of a secondary tumor is at least eight times greater than with proton therapy.2

Additionally, as an example, orbital rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS) is a type of tumor that occurs in the socket (or orbit) that houses the eye. This cancer is curable 85 percent of the time, but the X-ray radiation needed to treat it often has long-term effects: patients frequently have reduced vision in the treated eye and may experience problems with the bones of the eye socket. While the studies on treating this cancer with proton therapy are small in size, the results show great promise. In a study done at Massachusetts General Hospital, proton therapy delivered less radiation to normal tissues than X-rays, and thus, patients experienced fewer side effects.6

What to Expect with Proton Therapy

There is typically no discomfort or sensation during the actual radiation treatment. Most pediatric patients have few, or very mild, side effects from proton therapy. If your child does experience any side effects, they can be managed with medications in most cases. Depending on your child’s diagnosis, treatments are usually given five days a week for a period of four to eight weeks.

The time spent actually delivering the protons to the tumor is about one minute, but a pediatric cancer treatment session can range from 20 to 90 minutes, depending on the patient’s needs. Sedation is available if needed to help keep your child still during the treatment. Most children are able to participate in normal activities before and after treatment.

Learn more about what to expect when getting treated with proton therapy.

A pediatric proton therapy patient is helped onto the scan bed by two nurses.
"What to Expect" Pediatric Video

Contact Us

To discover if you or a loved one could benefit from proton therapy, please call us at 877.887.5807 (TTY 711).

Request Information