Improving outcomes for children following radiation therapy

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A team of experts from around the world is working together to improve clinical outcomes for children with cancer after radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy has improved outcomes for children with cancer, but it can cause damage to healthy tissue, which can have long-term effects on children’s health. Despite having been in use for many years, to date there is no leading data source to enable clinicians to make evidence-based treatment decisions, specifically for children. To combat this problem, a team of more than 150 specialists from around the world has united to formulate evidence-based guidelines for dosing radiotherapy in children.

An Introduction to Pediatric Normal Tissue Effects in the Clinic (PENTEC), which aims to minimize the side effects of radiation therapy, was recently published in the International Journal of Radiation Oncology.

Radiation dosage

PENTEC consists of more than 150 doctors, medical physicists, epidemiologists and other specialists, who volunteer their time and expertise. It is organized into 18 research groups, each of which focuses on the influence of radiation on a particular organ system, such as the lungs and respiratory system or central nervous system. The group reviews medical literature for studies and articles reporting doses and results, then correlates the side effects with the radiation dose for each organ.

Arthur Olch, PhD, a medical physicist at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and on the PENTEC Steering Committee, said, “This is truly a labor of love. We are all professionals and specialists, but we are also just people who care about what happens to these children after their cancer has been treated. We are collecting a tremendous amount of information, allowing us to make recommendations on safe dosing to the pediatric radiotherapy oncology community backed by evidence. “

Reporting standards

Currently, many case studies do not contain enough information to contribute to the dose-response curves – for example, a study that does report side effects but does not report the radiation dose causing those effects cannot be included. PENTEC wants to change this by proposing reporting standards for future studies, so that guidelines can be formed from as much information as possible.

The specialists who volunteer at PENTEC have been gathering enough information to formulate these guidelines for a number of years.

“What we do has very broad implications,” says Dr. Olch. “This will change the course of pediatric radiation therapy and hopefully lead to better outcomes for children with cancer – not just at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and in the United States, but worldwide.”

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