Treatments for cancer in children and teenagers

Your child´s treatment will depend on the stage, grade and type of cancer cells that they have. The stage looks at the size of the cancer and if it has spread. The grade can tell if the cancer grows quickly or slowly. Your child could have a low, moderate or high grade cancer.


The aim of surgery is to remove the cancer cells from your child´s body and the tissue around it. Surgery is possible if the tumour is found in one place only or if the lymph nodes nearby are involved.


Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to cure or control cancer. These drugs can be given on their own or with each other. Many cancer patients receive a combination of two or three chemotherapy drugs. Chemotherapy can also be given before or after radiotherapy and surgery. The drugs can either be injected into the bloodstream or given in tablet form, For more information download our Understanding Chemotherapy and Other Cancer Drugs booklet or visit our chemotherapy page.

Biological therapy

This therapy uses the body´s immune system to treat cancer. Biological therapies are often used with chemotherapy. Learn more about biological therapy


Radiotherapy is the use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. These are aimed directly at the tumour. For more information download our Understanding Radiotherapy booklet or visit our radiotherapy page.

Clinical trials for cancer in children and teenagers

Clinical trials look at using new drugs or combinations of currently used drugs to treat cancer. Clinical trials also look at diagnostic techniques, surgical techniques and radiotherapy treatments. The aim of clinical trials is to improve treatments for cancer, and give patients with cancer a better quality of life.

A clinical trial is one of the final stages of this long and careful research process. If you are interested in your child taking part in a clinical trial, speak to your doctor. They are in the best position to advise you about any trials that may be suitable for your child and their cancer.

If you would like to learn more about children and clinical trials, please see our section on clinical trials.

The Irish Platform for Patient Organisations, Science and Industry (IPPOSI) have produced a range of literature for children participating in clinical trials. Visit their website (external link).

Side-effects of cancer treatment

The type of side-effects your child will get depends on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and their own general health. Your child´s doctor will discuss any likely side-effects before treatment. Some treatments may cause symptoms like less resistance to infection, nausea, loss of appetite or hair loss. Many treatments cause fatigue.

Some treatments can cause long-term side-effects such as damage to organs or infertility. Your child´s doctor will discuss this with you. Remember it is important to bring your child for regular check-ups once their treatment is over.

Learn more about side effects

Advanced cancer in children and teenagers

Advanced cancer means that the cancer has spread from the area where it first started. If it spreads in the area around the tumour, it is called local spread. If it spreads to other areas of the body, it is called secondary cancer or metastatic cancer.

It is usually not possible to cure advanced cancer. Treatment can be given to control the cancer and to improve your child´s quality of life. Treatments can involve surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and biological therapy, as mentioned above. Your child may also be seen by the palliative care team at this time. This team is there to help with any symptoms that may occur and to support your child and your family through treatment. For more information on palliative care, please see our booklet: Precious Times.

The Palliative Hub is a gateway site which was developed to assist parents, guardians, carers and the wider public in understanding what children’s palliative care is and seeks to filter the wide range of information available on the internet. Visit their website (external link).

If you would like to learn more about palliative care, see our section on our palliative care services and information.

Date Last Reviewed: 
Monday, December 2, 2019