SAN DIEGO, CA—Results from a new nationwide survey indicate a steady increase in the number of pediatric patients who are being treated with proton radiation therapy for cancerous and noncancerous tumors. The research was presented during the 54th Annual Conference of the Particle Therapy Co-Operative Group (PTCOG).

Based on a survey of all proton therapy centers in the United States, the number of pediatric patients treated with proton radiation therapy has grown to 722 in 2013, a 36% increase from the 465 patients treated in 2010.

“Children are particularly vulnerable to the late side effects of radiation exposure to normal tissue, including treatment-related chronic disease and secondary cancers,” said study leader Andrew L. Chang, MD, medical director of pediatrics with the Scripps Proton Therapy Center in San Diego. “So we view this as a positive sign that more children are gaining access to this more precise form of radiation delivery.”

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Of pediatric patients treated with proton therapy in 2013, 56% were younger than 10 years and 26% were enrolled in multi-institutional registry studies. The most common tumor diagnoses treated included ependymoma (brain), medulloblastoma (brain and spinal cord), and low-grade glioma (brain).

A recent industry report showed that there are currently 16 proton therapy centers operating in the United States. The number is forecast to grow to 27 by 2017. The Mayo Clinic is expected to begin treating patients at its first proton center in June 2015.

Proton therapy is a form of external beam radiation that treats tumors with heavy charged particles that can be placed precisely at the site of the tumor.