Childhood cancer treatments

There are 4 types of treatment commonly used to manage cancer in children: chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy and blood and bone marrow transplantation. Depending on the type of cancer, the treatments are used alone or in combination.

Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer medicines, most of which are called cytotoxic because they have the ability to destroy cells. Cells go through cycles of resting, growing and dividing. Different types of cells spend different amounts of time doing these tasks. Cells that grow and divide quickly are susceptible to chemotherapy medicines.

Surgery is one type of treatment used in the care of children with cancer. It may be, primary surgery which removes all or most of the tumour, second look surgery which is done after treatment with chemotherapy or radiation, and supportive care surgery which is done to help with some aspects of a child's care.

Radiation therapy is the treatment of cancer by the use of high energy x-ray beams. The beams target the cancer cells from outside the body.

A bone marrow or blood stem cell transplant is a two-step process of elimination by chemotherapy and / or radiation of deficient bone marrow (or malignant cells) followed by replacement of the deficient marrow or cells by an infusion of healthy blood stem cells.

Sometimes, if your child has lost a lot of weight or has not been eating very well for a period of time, they will need nasogastric feeding. A nasogastric feed can make it easier and less stressful for both you and your child to make sure enough is eaten. 

If your child is to have anaesthesia or sedation they will have to stop eating food at least six hours before the procedure. Your child will be able to have breast milk up to four hours before the procedure. Your child will be able to have clear drinks up to two hours before the procedure.

Some techniques which can help a child cope with treatments which they see as uncomfortable or frightening: distraction, participation, de-sensitisation, guided imagery, self instruction and relaxation.

Parents / caregivers benefit from being well prepared for unfamiliar activities, just as children do. Ask your child's nurse to describe the procedure. Ask as many questions as you need to gain a clear understanding of what is to happen and why.

Play is important for children because of the way it helps them to understand their world. Play promotes learning, growth and development, relaxation, fun and socialisation.

Cleaning your hands gets rid of germs you pick up from other people. Keeping your hands clean is one of the best ways to keep from getting sick and spreading illnesses.

A clinical trial is a scientific research study designed to find out how to keep improving treatment. Clinical trials may be used to find out more about well-established types of treatment or they may be used to look at new treatments that have been developed in the laboratory and work out the benefits or drawbacks.

Therapies are called complementary when they are used together with conventional medicine. Complementary therapies are not cures but they can play an important role in helping children through treatment and in promoting feelings of wellbeing. Examples are massage and aromatherapy.