Childhood cancer is a devastating and terrible disease, regardless of its type. Fortunately, there are a handful of treatment options that are used to treat cancers worldwide, with strides being made in more treatment methods every day through research and testing. Being familiar with each treatment method, and its potential side effects, can help parents stay informed.
Some of the most frequently used cancer treatment methods are:
- Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy utilizes a mix of chemicals that are toxic for cancer cells. This method is the most common and has been used for nearly every type of childhood cancer. Unfortunately, chemotherapy can be very hard on the body. The chemicals that kill cancer cells can kill healthy cells, too. Many children who undergo chemotherapy experience side effects like hair loss, anemia, nausea, and fatigue. Fortunately, the side effects dissipate when the chemotherapy is finished.
- Radiation therapy – Radiation targets specific tumors and clusters of cancer cells within the body. A beam of radiation is aimed at the tumors, which breaks them up and destroys them. Although radiation can affect healthy cells in the area around the tumor, this method typically has milder side effects when compared to chemotherapy. Radiation is often used for childhood cancers that produce tumors and is not as effective for other types, such as bone marrow cancers or leukemia.
- Cryotherapy – Cryotherapy is used to “freeze” off tumors or abnormal tissues through the use of liquid nitrogen. This method is useful for a more narrow type of cancers, like retinoblastomas, skin cancers, and other types of cancers that display themselves externally. The side effects of cryotherapy are usually mild, and can include loss of pigmentation. Other more serious potential side effects include fertility loss and nerve damage.
In many cases, a child’s doctor will choose to utilize another cancer treatment method, or even a combination of different methods, in order to get the best result. A child’s medical team often consists of many doctors, specialists, and cancer professionals who all work together to determine the best possible treatment according to factors such as the child’s age, health, type of cancer, and cancer progression.