• Childhood cancer survival rate on the rise, proton therapy helping

    By: Paige Kelton

    Updated:

    JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Right now, thousands of Florida teens are in the fight of their lives. It isn't to get good grades or to make a sports team. They're fighting cancer.

    One local teenager won her battle and hopes to inspire others to do the same.

    "I am cancer free, that is nice to say, it's great," said Kathleen Patti.

    At 18 years old, Patti is a survivor.

    With that smile it’s easy to see how she overcame it, not once but twice.

    "We're still kids, still teenagers. We will still find a way to goof off and have fun," she said.

    Patti is among a growing number of children and teens who are surviving cancer.

    In the 1950s, only 20 percent of pediatric cancer patients survived their diagnosis. Today the survival rate is 80 percent.

    "There's a lot at stake when we’re treating kids with cancer," said Dr. Julie Bradley of the University of Florida Proton Therapy Institute.

    At 7, Patti’s radiation cured her cancer, but caused a secondary tumor.  

    "Then you get the first chemo treatment and it's like the worst most depressing thing every and it's hard, it's very hard," Patti said.

    After chemo, Patti underwent proton therapy, it killed the cancer, nothing else.

    One of the things that makes proton therapy so successful for children is its targeting radiation. Kids are still growing, so the less healthy tissue you hit with radiation, the better.

    "When those tissues are still growing the affects of treatment are magnified in children,” said Bradley.

    Despite the benefits, proton therapy is still not commonly used in children. According to the University of Florida, over the last five years of the more than 700 pediatric cancer patients who qualify, fewer than 200 underwent proton therapy.

    For Patti, two rounds of cancer was not something to fear, but rather, to overcome.

    "I can't imagine my life without cancer, it made me the person I am today," Patti said.

    Find out more information about proton therapy by clicking here

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