What treatment may my child receive?
The treatment of childhood cancers usually involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and often radiation, dependent on the age and the location of the cancer.
Rarer tumour types (such as rhabdoid tumours) may have treatment tailored to the child’s situation as there may not be a standardised tumour protocol available. In these circumstances, the treatment offered may be part of a trial to give your child the most up to date treatment. Your doctor and members of the care team will discuss the options for treatment with you in depth. See participating in clinical trials.
For children with solid tumours, surgery is often the first step of treatment if your child's tumour is small or in a relatively accessible location. If the tumour is too large to remove, usually, chemotherapy will have been given first.
Dependent on the size and location of the tumour, the surgeon may be able to remove part or all of the tumour. Samples of lymph nodes around the tumour are often taken as well to look for any signs of tumour spread.
Chemotherapy is a group of different drugs that affects the way cancer cells grow and reproduce. As a result, they work to shrink tumours and fight the cancer cells. Although good at fighting cancer cells, chemotherapy drugs cannot tell the difference between normal healthy cells and cancer cells. As a result, healthy cells are damaged too resulting in side effects.
Chemotherapy is often the first step of treatment for children with leukaemia and sometimes also for children with solid tumours (if their tumour is in a difficult location or is too large to remove surgically immediately). Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles, and the more intense regimes are given as an inpatient.
Some children require a stem cell transplant as part of their treatment. This is where some healthy cells are removed from your child before he or she receives very high dose chemotherapy and or radiation. Following this, the child is given back their healthy stem cells to enable them to build up their immune system again. Other children may require a stem cell transplant from a donor to give them the best chances of cure.
Children with certain tumour types may receive radiation therapy as a part of their treatment. It is generally avoided in children under two years of age if at all possible. However, but for some children under this age, a decision may be made that the benefits of radiotherapy outweigh the risks.
Dependent on the location of the tumour, the child will usually receive conventional radiotherapy, but in some situations cases they may require proton radiotherapy, especially if the tumour affects the head or neck. Currently, proton radiotherapy is not available in the UK so if required, children go abroad for treatment.
Treatment for childhood cancer can result in a number of side effects. Please be assured that the healthcare team will work carefully keep your child as comfortable and as symptom free as possible they can during treatment. This is called supportive care, and includes treatment for infections, pain relief and treatments to reduce side effects such as sickness.
In many regions as a matter of routine, children with cancer are referred to the local children’s hospice team to help with supportive care (symptom management) whilst on active treatment. Supportive care enables your child to feel as comfortable as possible whilst undergoing treatment. This is an area many centres are working hard to improve.
- Investigations that my child with cancer may undergo
- Vascular access for children with cancer
- Feeding for children with cancer
- Participating in clinical trials
- Other useful charity resources, support groups and website links
Content reviewed July 2021