How is Childhood Cancer Treated?

Four Ways that Doctors Treat Cancer

An X-ray, blood test or biopsy can help doctors learn if a child has cancer. A biopsy involves removing a piece of tissue from a tumor or the place in the body where cancer is suspected.

Treatment for pediatric cancer depends on what type of cancer a child has. There are four main ways to treat childhood cancer. Some types of treatment work better on one type of cancer but not as well on another. Depending on the cancer, these four treatments may be used in combination with one another:

1. Chemotherapy (chemo): Chemo is the name for a group of medicines that kill or damage cancer cells. Chemo kills or damages cancer cells by stopping their ability to divide and grow or by damaging their machinery. 

  • Chemo can be given by mouth; or into a vein (I.V.), muscle (injection) or the spinal canal (lumbar puncture)
  • The most common side effects of chemo are nausea, vomiting, low blood counts, mouth sores and hair loss.
2. Radiation therapy: Radiation is the use of high-energy waves to kill or damage rapidly growing cells, such as cancer cells. Radiation also can damage healthy cells, but does not cause cell damage throughout the body. Radiation only damages cells in the area of the body where the radiation is given. This is called the radiation field.
  • If a child needs to receive radiation, the radiation field will be measured and marked with a grease pencil on the child's body
  • Radiation makes the skin very sensitive

    We are now offering MIBG therapy as a treatment option for patients with refractory or recurrent neuroblastoma and malignant pheochromocytoma. 

    This is one of the most effective treatments for children with relapsed neuroblastoma. It typically has fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

3. Surgery: If cancer is in the form of a solid tumor, the tumor may need to be removed or biopsied.

4. Blood and marrow transplantation (BMT) : In some cases, chemo or radiation may destroy the bone marrow. If the bone marrow is destroyed, healthy stem cells are needed from a donor.