Being in hospital when your child has cancer

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

Your child will probably need to spend some time in hospital during their treatment.

Principal Treatment Centres

There are 20 Principal Treatment Centres in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. These are specialist centres for diagnosing and treating children’s cancers. If the doctors at your local hospital think that your child has cancer, they are likely to send them to one of these centres.

Often, some of the treatment can be given at your local hospital under the guidance of the nearest specialist centre. This is called shared care and the local hospitals are known as Paediatric Oncology Shared Care Units (POSCU). If your child has any shared care, the decisions about their treatment will still be made by your child’s consultant at the Principal Treatment Centre.

Children's wards

Children’s wards are relaxed and friendly places that aim to give you and your child as positive an experience as possible. You’re likely to get to know the staff well.

Almost all children’s wards have facilities where parents can stay overnight. Brothers and sisters may be able to stay too. Most children, especially younger ones, want their family to spend as much time with them as possible. Your child may seem upset when you arrive or leave, and this can be difficult for both of you. Whenever you have to leave, make sure you say goodbye and tell your child and the ward staff when you’ll be back.

Being in the same surroundings all day where everyone is worried and frightened can be a great strain, so it’s often helpful to try to leave the ward for at least one short break during the day. The nursing staff will understand this and encourage you to take regular breaks.

You can usually visit your child in hospital whenever you want – the ward staff will be able to tell you if there are any restrictions. Visits from the wider family and school friends can be good for your child. But remember, it can also be tiring for them if there are too many people visiting at once. It’s also important that anyone who wants to visit is well and doesn’t show any signs of infection.

It’s okay to talk about your feelings or worries with the nurses or social worker. They are experienced in caring for children with cancer and are there to help and support you. Many wards have teachers and play specialists. Children who are feeling well enough can attend the hospital school.

Many people will be involved in looking after your child, both at home and while they are in hospital.

Wards for teenagers

More and more hospitals now have specially designed wards or units for teenagers with cancer. Organisations such as Teenage and Young Adults with Cancer (TYAC) and the Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) work to improve cancer services for teenagers. Teenagers can meet people of their own age which, along with the surroundings and experienced staff, can help them get the support they need.

Hospital staff

Many different hospital staff will be involved in your child’s care. At first meeting all all the staff may seem overwhelming.

Paediatric oncologists

They are doctors who treat children with cancer. They are specialists in planning and giving cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Haematologists

They are doctors who specialise in blood disorders including leukaemia. They look after patients on the ward and examine blood samples in the laboratory.

Clinical oncologists

Clinical oncologists (also known as radiotherapists) are doctors who specialise in using radiotherapy and chemotherapy to treat cancer.

Surgeons

They perform operations. They may take a biopsy (remove a piece of tissue from the tumour for examination under a microscope) and/or remove the whole tumour. They also put in central lines and implantable ports.

Paediatric anaesthetist

This is a doctor who will anaesthetise and monitor your child throughout surgery or a procedure requiring an anaesthetic.

Junior ward doctors

These doctors are at different stages of their training and specialise in looking after children with cancer.

Clinical nurse specialists

There may be a clinical nurse specialist, or specialist nurse, based at the Principal Treatment Centre where your child has their treatment. They may act as your child’s key worker. This means that they coordinate your child's care and liaise with the Paediatric Oncology Shared Care Units, which have specialist or community nurses who work with children who have cancer.

Nurses

The sister, ward manager or charge nurse is in charge of the ward. Staff nurses, student nurses and healthcare assistants work under the sister/ward manager/charge nurse’s direction. All nurses will be specialised in working with children with cancer.

Pharmacists

They are responsible for preparing and dispensing medicines. They’re based in the hospital pharmacy and may also visit the ward.

Physiotherapists and occupational therapists

They help children with moving around and carrying out daily activities.

Pathologists

They analyse tissues samples (for example, biopsies) under the microscope to diagnose illness or see how an illness is being affected by treatment.

Psychologists

They can help children who have difficulties with behaviour or learning during their treatment and also support the child’s family.

Radiographers

They take x-rays and give radiotherapy treatment.

Radiologists

They interpret x-rays and scans to help diagnose the cancer and plan your child's treatment.

Dietitians

They make sure that your child has the best food to keep them as healthy as possible during their treatment. If your child isn’t able to eat for a while, the dietitian can advise on other ways of giving them the nutrients they need.

Play specialists

They use play to help children cope with the experience of being ill.

Social workers

They can help with any practical, emotional and financial problems you may have. CLIC Sargent provides social workers who specifically support children with cancer, and their families.

Teachers

Each children’s hospital has a school that provides education for children when they’re in hospital. The hospital school will contact your child’s school, and together they will plan an education programme for your child.

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.