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Pediatric Proton Therapy

Mass General Brigham experts are leaders in the field of proton therapy for pediatric cancer patients. Our physicians, physicists and engineers have vast experience in this highly technical form of radiation therapy, pioneering not only the initial use of this technology in adults but also the many advances that have taken place with pediatric proton therapy.

A young boy holding stuffed toy in front of imaging machine

Our pediatric proton therapy expertise

Mass General Brigham pioneered the use of proton radiotherapy in the pediatric population with the first patient treated at the Harvard Cyclotron in 1974. Since then, we have grown and expanded our proton program with the opening of the Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center in 2001 at Massachusetts General Hospital, and adding a second proton machine, the Gordon-Browne Proton Therapy Center in 2019 at Massachusetts General Hospital. Mass General Brigham is one of only two centers in the United States that has two proton machines available for this advanced form of radiation. We are also the only proton center in the northeastern United States. We have treated well over 1,600 children from around the world with this powerful technology, and have become a trusted international referral center for pediatric radiation oncology.

Conventional radiation therapy uses photons (X-rays) that enter and exit the body and thus affect the normal (healthy) tissue surrounding the tumor being targeted. Proton beam therapy minimizes dose to healthy tissue and allows for complete sparing of most healthy tissues that do not need to receive radiation, reducing the risk of side effects for children and for some patients allowing safe delivery of curative doses of radiation that would not be possible with photon therapy. Avoiding healthy tissues is critical for children, where even low doses of radiation can affect long-term growth and development.  

Treating pediatric cancers with proton

Proton beam therapy is the most common form of radiation used to treat children with cancer at Mass General Brigham. Our cancer care team is uniquely qualified to help you determine whether proton beam therapy is appropriate for your child.  

Our pediatric radiation oncologists work closely with other experts in pediatric oncology, pediatric surgery, pediatric neurosurgery, pediatric neuroradiology, pediatric neurology, pediatric anesthesia, pediatric rehabilitation, pediatric nursing, social work, child life and other areas to provide compassionate, family-centered care. 

At your first visit to Mass General Brigham, you and your child will meet your pediatric radiation oncologist and other members of our team. Your child will also be evaluated to help us design the most accurate radiation treatment and deliver truly comprehensive care.  

Our team appreciates the stress that comes with having a child undergoing an advanced medical treatment like pediatric proton therapy. We offer an array of supportive services for your child and the rest of your family. Furthermore, we will make sure you are a partner in your child's care and have an active role in their treatment plan.  

We use pediatric proton therapy to treat a wide range of brain tumors, including: 

  • Atypical teratoid rhabdoid tumors 
  • Central nervous system germ cell tumors 
  • Chondrosarcoma 
  • Chordoma 
  • Choroid plexus tumors 
  • Choroidal hemangioma  
  • Craniopharyngiomas: slow-growing tumors that form between the pituitary gland and the brain 
  • Ependymoma 
  • Ewing’s Sarcoma 
  • Gliomas: tumors that start in the glial cells of the brain 
  • Hodgkin’s disease 
  • Lacrimal gland tumors
  • Lymphoma 
  • Medulloblastoma 
  • Neuroblastoma 
  • Pineoblastoma 
  • Retinoblastoma 
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma 
  • Sarcomas (other) 

Proton beam therapy may also be used for other rare childhood tumors at any location in the body.

Crushing Cancer: Proton Beam Therapy

After their 8-year-old son had a successful brain tumor surgery in their home state of Washington, Joe and Leigh McGraw chose to take Tommy to Mass General Hospital for Children's Francis H. Burr Proton Therapy Center for targeted treatment.

Your proton beam therapy team

Meet Mass General Brigham's multidisciplinary team of experts who are leading the field of proton beam therapy. 

Proton Center Tour

Take a tour of Mass General's Burr Proton Center and learn how proton therapy works.

Traveling for pediatric proton care

Each year, thousands of patients from more than 140 countries travel to Mass General Brigham for medical care, second opinions and treatments unavailable anywhere else in the world.   

Mass General Brigham is experienced in caring for pediatric proton patients and families who are traveling great distances to our hospitals in Boston. Your cancer team here and our international patient services team will help you prepare for and plan the appropriate amount of time to stay in Boston for your appointments, treatments and any recovery time. During this recovery time in Boston or back home in your country, our clinical team will monitor your child’s well-being and progressions to continuously optimize their treatment plan and symptoms. 

You can reach our International Patient Care Team with questions or for help in setting up an appointment with a Mass General Brigham physician who can discuss your treatment options and begin developing a comprehensive treatment plan. Our team can also help you locate a place to stay, set up a tutor, find your way around Boston and much more.  We look forward to making your Mass General Brigham experience as healing and stress-free as possible.