Patient travel time can cause treatment delays when providers and families decide to seek proton therapy. We examined whether travel distance or referral pattern (domestic versus international) affects time to radiation therapy and subsequent disease outcomes in patients with medulloblastoma at a large academic proton center.
Children with medulloblastoma treated at MD Anderson (MDA) with a protocol of proton beam therapy (PBT) between January 4, 2007, and June 25, 2014, were included in the analysis. The Wilcoxon rank-sum test was used to study the association between time to start of radiation and distance. Classification- and regression-tree analyses were used to explore binary thresholds for continuous covariates (ie, distance). Failure-free survival was defined as the time interval between end of radiation and failure or death.
96 patients were included in the analysis: 17 were international (18%); 19 (20%) were from Houston, Texas; 21 were from other cities inside Texas (21%); and 39 (41%) were from other US states. The median time from surgery to start of radiation was not significantly different for international patients (median = 1.45 months) compared with US patients (median = 1.15 months; P = .13). However, time from surgery to start of radiation was significantly longer for patients residing > 1716 km (> 1066 miles) from MDA (median = 1.31 months) than for patients residing ≤ 1716 km (≤ 1066 miles) from MDA (median = 1.05 months; P = .01). This 1- to 2-week delay (median = 7.8 days) did not affect failure-free survival (hazard ratio = 1.34; P = .43).
We found that short delays in proton access can exist for patients traveling long distances to proton centers. However, in this study, treatment delays did not affect outcomes. This highlights the appropriateness of PBT in the face of travel coordination. Investment by proton centers in a rigorous intake process is justified to offer timely access to curative PBT.