Childhood Cancer


Cancers in children can be treated with chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or bone-marrow transplantation, depending on the type, stage, and location of the cancer (see Various Types Of Cancer Treatment)

More than 60 percent of childhood cancers are treated in clinical trials, that is, research studies comparing available treatments with new treatments that might be more effective.

In general, most childhood cancers grow fast and respond well to chemotherapy. Chemotherapy drugs are delivered directly to the bloodstream to target cancer cells throughout the body. Different types of cancer require different types or combinations of chemotherapy drugs.

Surgery is done to remove cancerous tumors. Surgeons try to remove the entire tumor and a small amount of healthy tissue around the tumor, called the margin, to make sure no cancer is left behind.

Radiation therapy is used to kill cancer cells with high-energy x-rays or other cancer-destroying particles. External beam radiation targets cancer cells from outside the body with a special machine. Internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy, uses radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters and placed in or near a tumor inside the body to destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy uses substances produced by the body or created in a lab to stimulate or restore the ability of the body’s immune system, its natural defense system against infections and some cancers, to fight your child’s cancer.

Bone-marrow transplantation involves first destroying a child’s leukemia in the bone marrow with high doses of chemotherapy or radiation therapy and then infusing healthy bone marrow or blood stem cells into the child’s veins to replace the destroyed bone marrow. The new marrow may come from a donor, such as a brother or sister or other relatives, or it may consist of the child’s own marrow or blood stem cells that have been treated to destroy any cancer cells.

Children diagnosed with cancer require a team of pediatric oncology physicians and specialists, including pediatric surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pediatric medical oncologists or hematologists, pediatric nurse specialists, rehabilitation specialists, and physical therapists. Treatment may also involve other professionals, such as psychologists, nutritionists, social workers, child life specialists, and educators.

You can find teams of childhood cancer specialists at children’s hospitals and pediatric cancer centers (see Understanding Cancer Treatment Facilities).


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