Treatments and Services
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 away from the tumor receives even less than with targeted X-ray beams. Once proton beams reach their target, they stop. 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 in the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA). SCCA Proton Therapy is the only proton therapy center in the Northwest and serves about 400 patients a year. We treat children and teens from across the country and around the world.
There are several proton therapy centers across the country. But there aren’t many with a world-class children’s hospital – like Seattle Children’s – close by. For more than a decade, our Cancer Center has been consistently ranked among the top pediatric oncology programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. For 2019–20, it has the highest ranking in the Northwest.
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 can take care of 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. 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. Among special concerns are tumors in the brain or bone. Radiation can harm brain function or slow down bone growth.
- Young cancer survivors can have effects from radiation later in life. Fortunately, many children who come to us with cancer will beat their disease. But radiation therapy increases their risk of harmful effects later in life, such as infertility or new tumors.
What conditions does proton therapy treat?
In children, proton therapy is used to treat many conditions, including:
- Some tumors in the brain or spinal cord, such as glioma, ependymoma, medulloblastoma and some other embryonal tumors
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Many sarcomas, including Ewing sarcoma and rhabdomyosarcoma
- Tumors in the spine
Your Child’s Team
Dr. Ralph Ermoian is the only radiation oncologist dedicated to pediatric care in our region (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho). His experience with children helps him know best whether — and how — to use radiation therapy for your child. He will work closely with the rest of your child’s team from Seattle Children’s or elsewhere and the care team at SCCA Proton Therapy. We will continue to work closely with your referring doctor through all phases of care. The team at the center includes nurses and radiation therapists specially trained and experienced in radiation therapy for children.
To make an appointment, you can call us directly or get a referral from your child’s primary care provider. We encourage you to coordinate with your pediatrician or family doctor when coming to Seattle Children’s.
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, as well as a library of resources and a playroom for children.