Although treating cancer with a lower risk of side effects is a priority for every patient, it’s especially important when treating cancer in children. That’s why, for many patients with pediatric cancer, proton therapy holds unique promise.

How Proton Therapy Effectively Treats Pediatric Cancer

Generally, cancer in children is treated with traditional radiation, chemotherapy or surgery – or a combination of the three. And while traditional radiation can go a long way in defeating pediatric cancer, it can also result in harmful side effects for growing children. These risks include developmental delays, hormone deficiencies, effects on bone and muscle tissue, and hearing loss or damage to salivary glands.

Proton therapy may limit the radiation exposure to healthy, growing tissue in pediatric cancer patients.

Because protons can be precisely controlled, pediatric proton therapy is ideal for tumors located near growing tissues in the spinal cord and brain, eyes, ears or mouth. For sarcomas and lymphomas, proton therapy may also deliver less radiation to the heart, lungs, and intestines. Healthy tissues surrounding the pediatric cancer are spared from excess radiation, meaning physicians can deliver more potent doses of radiation directly to the child’s tumor.

The result is a treatment with potential for fewer side effects. Fewer side effects translates to better quality of life.

The University of Florida Health Pediatric Proton Therapy Program

The University of Florida is a world leader in pediatric proton therapy. Since 2006, when the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute opened in Jacksonville, Florida, the care of children and adolescent patients has been among our highest priorities. We have developed a group of international leaders in pediatric radiation oncology, pediatric nursing, and pediatric psychosocial support. Our experience in pediatric proton therapy is unmatched: Nearly 2,000 children have been treated at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. These include children and adolescent patients from 39 states, 21 countries and 5 continents seeking the specialized expertise of the UF Health pediatric proton therapy team.

All aspects of pediatric care are designed with the child’s well-being in mind. From a safari-themed treatment room, a dedicated anesthesia recovery room and multiple playrooms to organized family events, activities and counseling, the whole family is cared for and put at ease.

The Experts of the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute

University of Florida Health is a top-ranked cancer care destination that attracts the brightest students, scholars, scientists and health care providers, all ready to tackle our patients’ greatest challenges. They are counting on us. And we intend to deliver, so that each generation is healthier than the last. The UF Health Cancer Center is dedicated to serving the Southeastern United States through state-of-the-art cancer treatment, prevention and education. The Cancer Center stands alone in the state of Florida in its unique ability to blend comprehensive patient care and innovative research in a collaborative, multidisciplinary environment. It boasts a membership of more than 230 researchers and clinicians from across UF and UF Health. The UF Health Cancer Center is one of a select group of prestigious cancer programs across the country to be designated an NCI Cancer Center.

As part of our mission within an academic health center, published research from the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is setting the standards for proton therapy cancer centers worldwide. Our team has authored the leading studies on proton therapy for pediatric ependymoma, craniopharyngioma, lymphoma, low-grade glioma, rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing sarcoma, and nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Patients are offered the opportunity to participate in national and international clinical trials through the Children’s Oncology Group and other consortia devoted to improving pediatric cancer outcomes.

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is designated as a Florida Cancer Center of Excellence and is one of the first proton therapy facilities in the nation to be accredited in radiation oncology by the American College of Radiology. Our patients can expect the highest level of excellence in their treatment, delivered by an expert medical team and with the most advanced equipment.

In 2023, the Climb for Cancer Foundation provided a one-time grant to re-establish the child life specialist position. The child life specialist is responsible for easing anxiety and educating the Institute’s youngest patients and their families about what treatment looks and feels like and guides them along the way.

Affordable and beautiful

About Our Location of Jacksonville

Jacksonville is known for its convenient location in Northeast Florida, next to the Atlantic Ocean, mild climate, reasonable cost of living, and high quality of life. 

Among Jacksonville’s many natural assets is one of the largest urban park systems in the country. Swimming and surfing are popular at area beaches. Championship golf courses in the area include Ponte Vedra Beach’s TPC Sawgrass, headquarters of the PGA Tour. Jacksonville also offers a major symphony orchestra, a sports and entertainment complex downtown and numerous special events each year. The proton center is 30 minutes from the resorts on Amelia Island, which Condé Nast Traveler in 2020 voted one of the top 10 islands in the United States.

Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, Legoland, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Kennedy Space Center, Daytona International Speedway, the mermaids of Weeki Wachee and the Florida Museum of Natural History are all just a car ride away.

UF Health Proton Therapy Institute Child Life Center

Why the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute?

For more than a decade, the team at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has treated more pediatric patients than any other proton center in the world. This means that doctors at the University of Florida have unparalleled experience treating even the rarest tumors of childhood. The pediatric team at the University of Florida has published some of the largest studies of children treated with proton therapy for tumors such as ependymoma1 and low grade glioma.2 This background is critical as recent research suggests that children with brain tumors and sarcomas experience better survival in high volume centers.3,4

In addition to pediatric radiation oncologists, the team at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute is made up of a specialized pediatric anesthesiology team, a team of devoted pediatric radiation oncology nurses, and a dedicated pediatric social worker, each with years of experience working with children undergoing proton therapy. The professional technical staff who operate the proton gantries are skilled and comfortable treating young patients, from infancy through young adulthood. This familiarity is the result of literally thousands of treatment sessions involving young patients.

All children and adolescents treated at UF Health Proton Therapy Institute receive multidisciplinary care, where the focus extends beyond just aspects of radiation. This support is critical for the most complex cases requiring chemotherapy, anesthesia, or specialized surgery. During their time in Jacksonville, children at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute are concurrently followed by the pediatric subspecialists at Nemours Specialty Clinic and Wolfson Children’s Hospital. Both are consistently named among the nation's best by U.S. News & World Report.

The UF Health pediatric program is built on the recognition that successful pediatric care involves far more than high speed particles and advanced physics. We devote the same energy to the overall well-being of our young patients and their families. That is why we offer the most comprehensive and holistic support network in our field. This programming includes behind-the-scenes pretreatment tours and age-appropriate videos and interactive iPad applications to help children feel more comfortable before their treatment, school advocacy, an adolescent and young adult program, and ongoing psychological assessment and supportive counseling provided by our pediatric social worker. Moreover, we know pediatric tumors and cancer impact the whole family. Ninety percent of our families come from outside Jacksonville and therefore we devote generous attention to ensure that everyone, including parents and siblings, feels supported. Other coordinated special events include group trips to local community events, performances, sporting events, and local attractions.

The University of Florida is a national leader in pediatric cancer research and this extends to the Pediatric Proton Therapy Program. Children treated at the University of Florida have access to international studies through the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). In addition, the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute offers its own innovative protocols designed to advance the field of pediatric radiation oncology through safer, more effective therapy. Over 98% of children treated in 2020 were enrolled on a prospective research protocol.

We are one of the few sites worldwide that offers both pencil beam scanning and double scattered proton therapy options, allowing us to select the optimal treatment for each child. In 2019, the center installed a Proteus One proton unit, expanding our capacity and ensuring our patients have access to the newest technology in North America.

The pediatric proton therapy program plays an important role in one of the fundamental missions of the University of Florida: education. Doctors from Moffitt Cancer Center, Mayo Clinic, and other medical schools rotate through the UF Health pediatric proton therapy service to learn the latest techniques for treating pediatric tumors. In order to meet the impending demand for pediatric proton therapy specialists, the University of Florida developed the nation’s first dedicated pediatric proton therapy fellowship in 2011. Members of the UF Health pediatric proton therapy team delivered over a dozen national and international lectures to radiation oncologists and pediatric oncologists in 2020. This same spirit of education extends to the clinical setting, where doctors and nurses take their time to teach patients of all ages about their diagnosis and treatment options.

1Indelicato DJ, Bradley JA, Rotondo RL, Nanda RH, Logie N, Sandler ES, Aldana PR, Ranalli NJ, Beier AD, Morris CG, Mendenhall NP. Outcomes following proton therapy for pediatric ependymoma. Acta Oncol. 2018 May;57(5):644-648. doi: 10.1080/0284186X.2017.1413248. Epub 2017 Dec 14. PMID 29239262

2Indelicato DJ, Rotondo RL, Uezono H, Sandler ES, Aldana PR, Ranalli NJ, Beier AD, Morris CG, Bradley JA. Outcomes Following Proton Therapy for Pediatric Low-Grade Glioma. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2019 May 1;104(1):149-156. doi: 10.1016/j.ijrobp.2019.01.078. Epub 2019 Jan 23. PMID: 3068466

3Knops RRG, vanDalen EC, Mulder RL, et al. The volume effect in paediatric oncology: A systematic review. Ann Oncol. 2013;24(7):1749-1753.

4Ludmir EB et al. Relationship between Treatment Center Case Volume and Outcomes for Ewing Sarcoma Patients: The Role of Local Therapy Timing. Intl J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys., 2019;105(1)S190.

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