One in every 266 children and adolescents will be diagnosed with cancer by age 20, according to the American Cancer Society.
Sarcoma — the term for a group of cancers that begin in the bones and in the soft or connective tissues — is one of the more common types of childhood cancer.
Fortunately, recent treatment advances have increased survival rates. Of children diagnosed with cancer, 84% now survive five years or more. One of the advances in treatment has been improvement in radiation therapy techniques and the use of proton beam therapy for treating pediatric cancers.
"Radiation therapy works very well for sarcomas," says Dr. Wendy Allen-Rhoades, a Mayo Clinic pediatric hematologist and oncologist. "And the difference between conventional radiation and proton therapy radiation is that our radiation oncologists are able to contour a little bit tighter with proton therapy. Therefore, the surrounding tissue that is normal is spared from some of the side effects. This is really important in children who are growing because we want them to be able to grow normally."
In addition to sparing healthy tissue from the effects of radiation, people who must undergo radiation therapy early in life are less likely to have long-term side effects and complications, such as secondary cancers, with proton beam therapy than with conventional radiation therapy.
September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. On the Mayo Clinic Q&A podcast, Allen-Rhoades discusses pediatric sarcomas and the importance of funding for research and support of families dealing with pediatric cancer.