Director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology at Mass. General Responds to CBS Evening News Proton Piece

How wonderful that CBS embarked on a story of proton radiotherapy and its utility in children. So often the press on proton radiotherapy focuses on patient populations where the benefits of it are less obvious. Protons are likely to make the biggest difference in minimizing side effects of treatment in the pediatric population and we are actively generating the clinical outcomes data that support that assertion. (In fact, I am at ASCO now about to present the clinical outcome data on our first prospective trial in children with medulloblastoma.)

I appreciated the input from my colleagues and Susan Ralston as well as the other parents and interested parties who have weighed in and will try not to reiterated what has already been deftly said.

While the story may have been a bit misleading by not really acknowledging the pediatric proton programs that have been active for many years already, CHOP must be commended for funding one of the gantries at this UPENN facility and dedicating it to the treatment of pediatric patients. However, each of the other open facilities running at full capacity in the United States treat between 30-115 pediatric patients per year, and do so with caring and compassion. While none of the other facilities have dedicated a physical structure, ie a gantry to the treatment of pediatrics, the other facilities and my own have proven that we are, in fact, dedicated to treating children.

We are a small community of doctors that treat kids with protons and are in the process of forming a collaboration to develop the pediatric proton database registry (unidentified of course) so that we may learn more from the experience and justify its use in this truly important population. In fact, we met less than one month ago for this very purpose.

I am the Director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), which has the largest and oldest pediatric proton experience (over 1000 children treated, with the first child treated by Dr. Herman Suit in 1974. Prior to the new MGH Proton Facility opening in 2001, MGH treated patients at the Harvard University Cyclotron. Between 1974 and 2001 366 pediatric patients were treated. Since opening the Francis H Burr Proton Therapy center we have treated over 650 pediatric patients. We are treating approximately 115 pediatric patients per year and are looking into options to try to increase our capacity.

In the meantime I look forward to our collaboration with other proton centers to generate the necessary data to support the proof that proton radiotherapy truly is a quantum leap forward for the kids. And, I applaud Susan Ralston efforts through her foundation to get accurate proton information out to other families facing tumor diagnoses in their children to aid in their education and access to this very limited but exceptionally promising therapy.

Torunn I Yock, MD MCH
Director, Pediatric Radiation Oncology
Massachusetts General Hospital
MassGeneral Hospital for Children

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