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Radiation Therapy For Pediatric Cancers

As San Diego County's only provider of pediatric radiation oncology, we are experts in treating common and rare pediatric cancers, including brain tumors, Wilm’s tumor, bone and soft tissue sarcomas, leukemia and solid tumors in almost all parts of the body.

Families from across Southern California and Mexico seek out our expertise. Our pediatric program builds on our highly respected high-volume adult radiation oncology program with a child-friendly approach and close collaboration with Rady Children’s Hospital, where many of our pediatric patients receive their oncology care.

Among the advantages of our program is the great effort we take to limit the overall use of radiation in children by minimizing both the volume and number of doses of radiations. By doing so, our pediatric patients may avoid many of the unwanted side effects (such as impaired growth of bones and soft tissues) that may occur when children are treated with large fields and relatively high doses.

Treatment Techniques

Another advantage of our program is the range of treatments that we offer families and their children, including: 
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)

An IMRT plan for a child with a retroperitoneal rhadomyosarcoma.

Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy

Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) is a type of external beam radiation therapy and the most commonly used approach for our pediatric patients. This computer-guided technology helps to more precisely target cancer cells, reducing non-therapeutic radiation delivered to nearby normal tissue. When needed, we use X-rays or CT scans, known as image guidance radiation therapy (IGRT), to precisely locate cancerous cells.

Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator

Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator (left) and the open-face system eliminates the need for a head frame or bite tray (right).

Stereotactic Radiosurgery

Stereotactic radiosurgery (SRS) is an advanced type of external radiation therapy that delivers very precise and intense doses of radiation. SRS is a particularly appealing approach in children due to the low dose delivered to surrounding normal tissues. It is also a potentially valuable treatment option in children who develop recurrent disease.

At UC San Diego Health, SRS is delivered on the Varian TrueBeam linear accelerator. Unlike other SRS approaches, TrueBeam is an open-faced system, which eliminates the need for a frame or bite tray and is much more comfortable for the patients. We are also one of the few places in the world to use the Vision RT system, which tracks the patient's movements in real time to improve the precision and efficacy of treatments.

Conformal Radiotherapy

Conformal radiotherapy (3DCRT) uses multiple beams to focus treatment on the target while shielding the surrounding normal tissues as much as possible.

Proton Therapy

Proton therapy is a type of radiosurgery that uses atomic nuclei (protons) to kill cancerous cells. Proton therapy has been shown to have clinical benefits in a handful of rare pediatric cancers, including brain and spinal cord cancer. The ability to precisely focus the proton beams can limit damage to healthy brain cells, reducing the risks of cognitive impairments and hearing loss. UC San Diego Health offers proton therapy at California Protons Cancer Therapy Center, the only proton therapy center in the region.


3DCRT treatment plan in a child with Stage IV Wilm’s tumor

Pediatric Anesthesia During Radiation Treatment

In general, children who are younger than 7 years old will need anesthesia during radiation treatment. Our dedicated staff is highly experienced and works closely with our anesthesiologists to ensure that it is administered safely and effectively.

If your child does receive anesthesia:

  • For daily anesthesia, your child's existing chemotherapy line can often be kept in place. This enables the anesthesiologists to administer daily medication without using needles.
  • Your child should have an empty stomach before receiving anesthesia. (All anesthesia treatments are scheduled in the morning to accommodate for this.)
  • Children are monitored after treatment by the nursing staff and anesthesiology
  • We use an anesthesia with a quick onset and recovery time, so you can generally expect to be done one hour after treatment time.

Appointments & Referrals

Pediatric Radiation Oncology Location

La Jolla

Patient Guide

Radiation Oncology Patient Handbook 

Radiation Oncology Patient Handbook Spanish 

Patient Education

Learn more about these topics at our Health Library: