News | Radiation Therapy | April 06, 2017

Further Reductions in Radiotherapy to Young Children with Brain Tumors Results in Less Successful Outcomes

Qualitative assessment of Head Start III trial finds more than 30 percent of patients experienced deviations from radiotherapy protocols, which lowered overall survival rates

radiotherapy, radiation therapy, CHLA, Children's Hospital Los Angeles study, young children, brain tumors, outcomes, Pediatric Blood & Cancer

Image courtesy of CHLA.

April 6, 2017 — A team of investigators has determined that young children participating in a clinical trial to assess the effectiveness of reduced radiotherapy did worse when there were deviations from the treatment protocol. Results of the study were available online in advance of publication by Pediatric Blood & Cancer on April 4.

“This study shows that attention to the timing, dose and location of radiation therapy is crucial,” said Kenneth K. Wong, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and first author on the study.

This paper is a qualitative assessment of the Head Start III trial, which avoids or delays radiation therapy in children with brain tumors. The Head Start studies represent an innovative approach to the treatment of malignant brain tumors — using high-dose chemotherapy followed by transfusion of blood stem cells — as a substitute for radiation in younger children, where the late side effects of radiation to the developing brain can be particularly detrimental. If disease persists after this course of treatment or if the child is older, they receive radiation therapy. 

In Head Start III, only 31 of 220 children received radiation on study, since the goal of these studies is to reduce radiation exposure. However, of the children who were to receive radiation, a subset (8 of 25) had deviations from the treatment plan. These protocol violations all occurred in children 6 years of age or younger.

“Parents or providers may want to delay the start of radiation or reduce the dose or area of exposure — particularly in very young children,” said Wong. “But in a study already limiting radiation exposure, patients with these kinds of protocol violations experienced worse outcomes.”

For all patients eligible for radiation therapy, those that received treatment according to protocol and began radiation therapy within 11 weeks of recovery from stem cell transfusion had improved overall survival.

To further improve patient outcomes, Wong suggested focusing on reducing protocol violations by reviewing treatment plans prior to initiating radiation therapy. He is currently pursuing funding to continue this work.

Additional contributors to this study include: Girish Dhall and Arthur Olch, Children’s Hospital Los Angeles; Sean All, University of Central Florida College of Medicine; Jonathan Waxer, Tulane University School of Medicine; Rajkumar Venkatramani, Texas Children’s Hospital; Tom Belle Davidson, UCLA; Wafik Zaky, MD Anderson Cancer Center; and Jonathan Finlay, Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

For more information: www.onlinelibrary.wiley.com

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