Treating Childhood Cancer
Treatment typically begins right away because of how aggressive some childhood cancers can be, so, as you make these timely treatment decisions, also think about getting a second opinion.
Although your child’s pediatrician may have made the diagnosis and is likely a very good doctor and someone you trust, he or she may not be skilled in treating cancer. Getting another opinion from a pediatric oncologist (preferably one who is experienced in treating your child’s type of cancer) will either confirm the original diagnosis and treatment recommendations or offer new information to consider. Treating cancer in children is different than treating it in adults because, simply put, children are not just small adults. They react to treatments differently than adults and, therefore, must be treated appropriately.
Certain cancer centers and multidisciplinary teams specialize in treating children. Ask your pediatrician for a recommendation to a pediatric oncology center or a referral to a physician known for treating your child’s type of cancer. If the facility or specialist you choose is not nearby and travel is an issue, ask if consulting on your child’s case is an option. Also, ask your child’s nurse navigator about available housing and financial resources for travel. Many children with cancer receive treatment or participate in clinical trials at places that specialize in treating cancer in children, such as children’s hospitals, pediatric oncology centers, university medical centers or cancer centers.
Your doctor will create the treatment plan based on many factors, including the type, stage and location of the cancer, as well as the child’s age and overall health. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, targeted therapy and stem cell transplantation are standard treatment options. Typically, the best treatment option depends on the type of cancer.
Because cancer in children is relatively rare and doctors and researchers have not had as many opportunities to study it, clinical trials are often recommended for treating childhood cancer. Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a treatment is safe and effective and which strategies work best for certain illnesses or groups of people. They may offer your child access to promising new treatments that are not available outside of the trial. It may comfort you to know that your child will receive high-quality care and be closely monitored throughout the trial. And, by simply participating, your child will help others who will need cancer treatment in the future.
When people consider a clinical trial, they receive detailed information about the trial in a document known as an Informed Consent form. This form details the purpose of the research, including the participant’s role in the trial, how the trial will work, risks, benefits and other pertinent information. They are required to review the form during the Informed Consent process. Legally, they must be 18 years old to give consent. Children with cancer who are under 18 are also asked to give their assent, and they go through a similar information process. The child’s treatment team and research team work with the child and the parents/guardians to ensure everyone understands all parts of the trial. Ask your doctor whether clinical trials are an option for your child.
Your child’s oncology team is typically made up of these and other specialists. This varied group of professionals is specially trained to lead your child and your family through this unexpected journey:
- Pediatric oncologists
- Pediatric surgeons
- Radiation oncologists
- Pediatric oncology nurses
- Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs)
- Social workers
- Nurse navigators
- Physical therapists