How are children’s cancers treated?

Teenage boy talking to a doctor

The best treatment for your child will depend on:

  • What type of cancer they have – for example, surgery for a tumour, chemotherapy for blood cancers.
  • The size of the cancer and where is it.
  • The grade of their cancer.
  • If the cancer has spread to other parts of their body.
  • Their general health.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control cancer. It can also be used alone or with other treatments like radiotherapy or targeted therapies. Read more about chemotherapy and its side-effects

Surgery

The aim of surgery is to remove the cancer. If surgery is an option, the type of surgery will depend on the size and position of the cancer and if there is cancer in the lymph nodes. You can read more about surgery for brain tumours in our booklet Helping Hand:
 

Helping hand booklet
Helping hand booklet
This book has been written as a guide for parents of children with a brain tumour.

Radiotherapy

This involves using high energy rays to kill the cancer cells. It can be given before or after surgery. It may also be given if the cancer has spread. Read more about radiotherapy.

Proton beam therapy is a type of radiotherapy that may be recommended for your child. See our leaflet explaining proton beam therapy.

Guide for families of children receiving proton beam therapy
Guide for families of children receiving proton beam therapy
This leaflet will tell you all you need to know if your child is going to have proton beam therapy abroad. (Download only)

Targeted therapies / immunotherapy

These are drugs (injections or tablets) that can help to target and destroy cancer cells or stop them from growing. Or they can help your child’s immune system to attack cancer cells.

Stem cell and bone marrow transplants

These are sometimes used for blood cancers. They involve giving high doses of chemotherapy drugs to children and then helping them recover by giving healthy stem cells into their blood. The cells can come from the child themselves (autologous) or from a donor (allogeneic).

Will my child get side-effects?

Side-effects include being more at risk of infections, feeling sick or hair loss. Some treatments can cause long-term side-effects such as damage to organs or infertility. 

The side-effects your child might get depend on the type of treatment, the dose, how long they have treatment for and their general health. 

Your doctor or nurse will discuss any possible side-effects with you before treatment. Read about the different treatments to find out more about possible side-effects. You can also read our section Coping with side-effects and symptoms for more information and advice.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials are research studies that try to find new or better ways of treating or diagnosing cancer. Children with cancer are sometimes asked to take part in a clinical trial. This means that instead of the standard treatment they get a new trial treatment.  

Read more about clinical trials. You can also see clinical trials information for children of different ages from the Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry (IPPOSI). 

Treating cancer that has spread (metastatic cancer)

Metastatic or secondary cancer means the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Remember that not all cancers spread. 

If your child has metastatic cancer, treatment will aim to slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce or relieve any symptoms. Your child will be helped by the palliative care team. These are experts in treating the symptoms of advanced cancer. They will also give you emotional support.

If you want more information on symptom control and end-of-life care, please see our booklet, Precious times:
 

Precious times handbook
Precious times - a handbook on palliative care for parents of children with cancer booklet
This book is designed for families of children who have advanced cancer. The purpose of this book is to give you and your family information which will hopefully help you during palliative care.

For more information

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