Treatment for children's cancers

This information was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG).

The treatment your child has will depend on the type of cancer they have.

There are a number of different treatments available. The most common are:

  • surgery, which aims to remove the tumour during an operation
  • chemotherapy, which uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells
  • radiotherapy, which uses radiation to destroy cancer cells
  • stem cell and bone marrow transplants, which involve having high doses of chemotherapy drugs followed by an infusion of blood stem cells
  • immunotherapy, which involves having specific drugs that target particular cancer cells
  • targeted therapy, which involves special drugs that target proteins and genes in cancer cells.

The multidisciplinary team (MDT)

In most hospitals, a team of specialists will plan the treatment they feel is best for your child’s situation. This multidisciplinary team (MDT) is led by a consultant oncologist/haematologist who specialises in the treatment of cancer or leukaemia.

The MDT may include:

  • a paediatric oncologist (cancer specialist)
  • a paediatric haematologist (specialist in blood disorders)
  • a clinical oncologist (radiotherapy and chemotherapy specialist)
  • a paediatric surgeon
  • a nurse specialist
  • a pharmacist
  • a dietitian.

It may also include other healthcare professionals, such as a psychologist, occupational therapist, physiotherapist or social worker. The MDT meets on a regular basis to discuss newly-diagnosed children, treatment options, clinical trials and any situation where people may be having problems or need extra support. These healthcare professionals use their expertise to work together to provide treatment and support for children and young people with cancer. The doctor will explain to you which treatment, or combination of treatments, is appropriate for your child.

Giving consent to treatment

Before your child has any treatment, the doctor will explain its aims. They will ask you or your child to sign a form to give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give the treatment. Once a child reaches the age of 16, they can usually consent to their own treatment. The law about children consenting to treatment is very complicated, so make sure you discuss any concerns you have with your child’s doctor. Before you or your child is asked to sign the form, you should be given full information about:

  • the type and extent of the treatment
  • its advantages and disadvantages
  • any significant risks or side effects
  • any other treatments that may be available.

If you don‘t understand what you’ve been told, let the staff know so they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it’s not unusual for people to need repeated explanations.

Clinical trials

Many children are offered cancer treatment that is part of a clinical trial. Trials can be done for a number of reasons. Remember, any treatment suggested for your child will be the best treatment for them. If a trial is suggested, you’ll be given information about it and what it involves. You will have to consent to the trial as well as to the treatment itself. It’s a good idea to have your partner, a relative or friend with you when the treatment is explained, to help you remember the discussion. You may also find it useful to write a list of questions before your child’s appointment.

Making a decision

People sometimes feel that hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it’s important for you to know how the treatment is likely to affect your child. The staff should be willing to make time for your questions.

You can always ask for more time if you feel that you can’t make a decision when the treatment is first explained. In emergencies, decisions may have to be made quickly, but otherwise it’s usually possible to have more time to think things over.

Children's cancer information from CCLG

This information about children’s cancer was written by the Children’s Cancer and Leukaemia Group (CCLG). It has been reviewed and edited by their publications committee, which includes medical experts from all fields of children’s cancer and care.

Back to Treating children's cancer

Alternative treatments

Alternative treatments are unproven therapies that aim to treat cancer. They may cause problems when used with or without conventional treatments.