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Pediatric Oncology

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Thoughts From Our Childhood Cancer Expert

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Radiation Oncology Residency Program Director

Associate Professor of Radiation Oncology and Molecular Radiation Sciences

As a pediatric radiation oncologist, Dr. Stephanie Terezakis has found a career that allows her to utilize multiple professional interests.  

“I’ve always been interested in oncology. And I was naturally drawn to pediatrics; I love kids. Focusing on radiation oncology allows me to merge intensive patient care and continuity of care with the basics of anatomy and therapeutic interventions,” she says.

A clinician-scientist who splits her time between seeing patients and conducting research, Dr. Terezakis sees the benefits in this ‘hybrid’ professional model. “You understand where the [research] questions still lie when you’re seeing patients. It’s motivating: You have people in front of you who you want to cure. It also informs you of where the gaps are. It allows you to ask really relevant patient questions,” she says.

As a pediatric radiation oncologist, the questions that loom in the forefront of Dr. Terezakis’s mind often revolve around how to make radiation as effective as possible at killing cancer cells, while leaving surrounding cells unscathed.

“I think we are getting better at treating tumors, thanks to an enhanced biological understanding of when and how we should be treating them. And, our [radiation] technology has allowed us to become much more precise,” she says optimistically. 

As promising as these advances are, Dr. Terezakis continues to look to an even brighter future. “The next frontier is to understand how people, individually, respond to radiation,” she says.

By examining therapeutic agents that may act as ‘sensitizers’ to radiation, explains Dr. Terezakis, oncologists might be able to reduce radiation doses in some patients. “We’re looking across different kinds of tumors to see which patients with what type of tumors might benefit by this. It’s a novel way to address therapy,” she says.

In addition to reducing radiation under certain circumstances, another recent advance in radiation oncology is increased precision of radiating pediatric tumors. “In the last ten years, there have been significant strides in this area,” Dr. Terezakis says. “We are able to provide much more focused radiation treatments. Our goal is to deliver the dose to the tumor itself, and leave the surrounding critical structure alone.” 

While the field of radiation oncology in general has made great strides in recent years, the expertise of pediatric radiation oncologists such as those at Johns Hopkins brings pediatric oncology care to a whole new level. “The way we think about radiation and combine it with other modalities is totally different than how we treat adults. When treating children, you really have to think of the impact over a 50- to 60-year lifespan,” Dr. Terezakis says. “It really is about the subspecialized care.”

 Dr. Terezakis expresses satisfaction at being a part of an academic medical center that not only sees pediatric patients, but has a strong staff dedicated to this population. “I’m a parent. I completely understand that parents are entrusting a child—someone’s world—to us,” she says.