Neuro-Oncology Program

Nick survived a brain tumor the size of an orange.

When 8-year-old Nick Swafford wasn’t feeling well, his mom, Susan, didn’t think much of his symptoms at first.

He complained of stomach pain and would throw up on occasion. But as these symptoms continued, Nick was taken for gastrointestinal testing and had neurological exams to rule out something more serious. He passed all the neurological tests, but subsequently, when Nick couldn’t hit the ball during baseball tryouts, he went to see an eye doctor.

It was a trip to the ER after Nick threw up blood that uncovered the reason for his symptoms. He still passed his neurological exams, but a CT scan showed a tumor the size of an orange, in the part of his brain that controls motor function. Nick was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, the most common malignant brain tumor in children. And less than 24 hours later, he was in surgery to have it removed.

Susan recalls that everyone was surprised at how calm she seemed during the diagnosis and emergency surgery. “I was in shock to be honest,” she says. “I went into some kind of out-of-body mom defense mechanism. I thought, ‘Oh great, Nick, now we finally know what’s wrong with you and can make you better!’”

Six weeks of daily radiation and 55 weeks of chemotherapy followed. Susan says that Dr. John Crawford, Nick’s neuro-oncologist, was “the kind of doctor needed in that space and time.” For his treatment, Nick was enrolled in a medulloblastoma clinical trial.

Nick made it through the treatment, and despite all he has been through, you would never know what he has endured, unless you see his surgery scar.

Advancing Treatment

Pediatric brain tumors are the leading cause of death among all children diagnosed with cancer. They are the second most common childhood cancer and the most common solid tumor. In San Diego County, about 40 to 50 children are diagnosed with brain tumors every year.

Today, with advances in technology to diagnose and treat these tumors, Rady Children’s is poised to not only save lives but, in doing so, to cause the least possible harm to the developmental potential of the child.

It is now possible to use DNA sequencing to identify patients with brain tumors who are at higher risk and require more aggressive therapy. Treatment can then be personalized using chemotherapy alone, sparing the child some of the harmful effects of standard radiation therapy.

A new type of radiation therapy is also available to pediatric cancer patients right here in San Diego. Through a partnership with Scripps Health, Rady Children’s can treat pediatric tumors with proton therapy, a highly advanced radiation therapy that precisely targets the tumor and causes less damage to healthy tissue, especially critical organs like the brain, heart, lungs and eyes. The Scripps Proton Therapy Center is one of only 15 centers in the country to offer the therapy and will serve as a neuro-oncology referral center for the western United States.

And through Rady Children’s research alliance with the UC San Diego Moores Cancer Center and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Rady Children’s is a part of several collaborative clinical trials groups focusing on pediatric brain and spinal cord tumors. These are the Children’s Oncology Group, the Neuroblastoma and Medulloblastoma Translational Research Consortium and the Pacific Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Consortium.

Join Us in Our Lifesaving Work


Dr. John Crawford discusses our program

To ensure a future where children in San Diego and beyond are offered unsurpassed care for brain and spine tumors, the Neuro-Oncology program must invest in:

  • Infrastructure
  • Research
  • Technology
  • Expertly trained clinical staff

These investments are critical to enabling physicians and researchers to identify patients at risk for brain and spinal cord tumors, study tumors and treatments by running additional trials, develop targeted therapies that improve survival rates, and one day fully understand the causes and consequences of this devastating cancers.

Your support of the Neuro-Oncology Program, now more than ever, will make a profound difference.

Donate Now

For more information, please contact Dr. John Crawford or a Rady Children’s Hospital Foundation development representative at 858-966-7771.