Pediatric Radiation Therapy

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High Impact. Low Risk.

This information is about radiation use in children. Read more about how we use radiation in adults.

When a child has cancer, the goal is to first and foremost cure the disease. But doctors and parents are also concerned about how the treatment may affect a child’s life and future. Will my child be able to learn in school? Will treatment raise the risk of other cancers? How will my child feel during treatment?

At Memorial Sloan Kettering, we understand those concerns. That’s why when radiation therapy is needed, we design your child’s treatment to shrink or eliminate the tumor while limiting side effects as much as we can. Our radiation therapy specialists offer an extensive range of treatments. We take every step to care for your child with expertise and compassion.

Your Child’s Safety Is Our Priority

Radiation. Just the word can be a little scary to some people. We get that. We understand that you may be concerned about your child’s exposure to radiation, and we explain every step of the process to you and your child. Our goal is to target the cancer while sparing nearby healthy tissue, which new technologies enable us to do better now than ever before. If you have questions at any point during your child’s care, our doctors are available to answer them. You can trust us to be here for you and your child.

Your Child’s Radiation Treatment Team

The MSK Kids team of world-renowned experts includes the tristate area’s only dedicated pediatric radiation oncologist, Suzanne Wolden, and other experienced doctors, nurses, therapists, and anesthesiologists who work together to customize a treatment plan. We ensure that your child receives the safest, most effective care.

What is radiation therapy?

During radiation therapy, we direct beams of high-energy radiation to your child’s tumor with exceptional precision. The energy may be in the form of particles, either as protons or photons. Depending on your child’s cancer type, stage, and location, we may use radiation therapy alone or combine it with surgery, chemotherapy, or both. Your doctors will let you know which treatment is best for your child.

Who We Treat

Not every child with cancer needs radiation therapy. Here are some of the pediatric cancers we may treat with radiation therapy:

Pinpoint Radiation Therapy Techniques

Children who need radiation therapy may benefit from one of these approaches. We provide these in our hospital and at various outpatient locations:

  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) uses computer programs to shape and deliver different doses of radiation directly to a tumor from various angles. With IMRT, we can give higher, more-effective doses of radiation while minimizing exposure to nearby healthy tissues and organs.
  • Image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT) uses high-tech imaging to precisely target radiation to a tumor.
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) delivers extremely thin beams of very high radiation doses directly to tumors. It usually requires fewer treatments than standard radiation therapy.
  • Proton therapy delivers radiation to a specific depth in the body and then stops. This precision means that the radiation doesn’t scatter deeper into the body than necessary, which can happen with conventional radiation therapy. At MSK Kids, we may recommend proton therapy for children with certain tumors — most often brain tumors, sarcomas, neuroblastoma, and Hodgkin lymphoma.

Treating from the Inside

Some children benefit from radiation that is placed directly at or near a tumor site inside the body. There are two ways we can achieve this:

  • Brachytherapy involves placing a tiny radiation-containing steel seed inside the body near a tumor. With this technique, our doctors can use a higher total dose of radiation to treat a smaller area in a shorter time.
  • Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) delivers radiation directly to a tumor during surgery. Our surgeons can move healthy tissue out of the way before applying the radiation therapy. This may be helpful when important organs are located very close to a tumor. IORT makes it possible to use a higher-than-usual — and therefore more effective — dose of radiation while sparing nearby healthy tissue.