What is proton therapy?
Proton therapy is a type of radiation therapy used to kill cancer cells in children with certain kinds of tumors. Standard radiation therapy uses X-ray beams.
Proton therapy uses beams of protons. Special machines aim the beams at the tumor from many angles. Proton therapy helps doctors target tumors better and spare healthy areas or limit damage to them. This means fewer side effects for children in the short term and the long term.
With protons, the tumor gets the intended high dose of radiation, while the healthy tissue around the tumor receives less radiation than with targeted X-ray beams. The proton beams stop in the tissue just beyond the tumor target. The radiation does not keep going, as it does with X-rays.
What’s special about proton therapy at Seattle Children’s?
Seattle Children's offers proton therapy through our partnership with Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. Fred Hutch Proton Therapy is the only proton therapy center in the Northwest. We treat children and teens from across the country and around the world.
Whether your child receives all their cancer care at Seattle Children's or comes here just for proton therapy, you can expect a full range of services and support. Our staff meets the medical, surgical and other needs of children and families who get proton therapy here. Read about the supportive care we offer.
We also help with financial counseling, schooling, housing, transportation, interpreter services and spiritual care. Proton therapy is almost always covered by both private insurance and public insurance (like Medicaid). Read about our services for patients and families.
Who may be helped by proton therapy?
Children with tumors in certain parts of their body may benefit from having proton therapy instead of X-ray radiation therapy. Protons may be better for tumors in places where side effects of treatment tend to be serious or lasting. Side effects of radiation matter even more in children than in adults. There are 2 main reasons:
- Children's bodies are still developing. Radiation that damages healthy tissue can affect a child's development and growth.
- X-ray radiation during childhood may cause effects later in life. Fortunately, many children who come to us with cancer will beat their disease. With proton radiation, children may have fewer effects on their fertility, bone growth, hormones, heart, learning and thinking. The effects depend on the tumor’s location in the body.
What conditions does proton therapy treat?
In children, proton therapy is used to treat many conditions, such as:
- Some tumors in the brain or spinal cord, like glioma, ependymoma, chordoma, medulloblastoma and other embryonal tumors
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Cancerous tumors of muscle and other soft tissue, including rhabdomyosarcoma
- Bone tumors such as Ewing sarcoma
- Germ cell tumors
Who’s on the team?
We have the only radiation oncologists in our region who focus mainly on caring for children and teens. We treat young patients in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Their experience helps guide your healthcare team about whether — and how — to use radiation therapy for your child.
The radiation oncologists will work closely with other specialists from Seattle Children's and SCCA Proton Therapy. Your child’s team at Seattle Children’s will include doctors, nurses, nutritionists, child life specialists and anesthesiologists (if needed). Nurses and radiation therapists at the proton center are specially trained and experienced in radiation therapy for children.
We will work closely with your referring doctor through all phases of care.
If you would like an appointment, ask your child’s primary care provider to refer you.
If you have a referral or would like a second opinion, you may contact:
- The Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at 206-987-2106 or CBDCintake@seattlechildrens.org
- SCCA Proton Therapy at 206-306-2800 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Providers, see how to refer a patient.
SCCA Proton Therapy is in north Seattle on the campus of Northwest Hospital & Medical Center. It has 4 treatment rooms and a playroom for children.
Scheduling an appointment
- How to schedule an appointment at Seattle Children’s.
- If you already have an appointment, learn more about how to prepare.
- Learn about resources such as useful links, videos and recommended reading for you and your family.