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Childhood Cancer: A Quick Guide to Types, Treatments, and Terminology

September 8, 2023

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month so we want to help raise some awareness about common childhood cancers and treatments. Whether you or someone you know has been impacted by pediatric cancer or not, we can all become more educated and prepared to love and serve the 16,000 families who are diagnosed in the United States each year. 

If you know a family who has just been diagnosed with pediatric cancer, check out this article to learn how you can help. 

We’ve put together a quick reference guide of common pediatric cancers, treatments and other terms to be familiar with. Grab a snack, get ready to take some notes and let’s get started!

Main Types of Pediatric Cancers

There are three main types of pediatric cancers: blood and lymphatic system cancers, brain and spinal cord tumors and solid tumors. 

Blood Cancers

Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and is the most common form of childhood cancer. Lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymph nodes and can travel throughout the rest of the body. Typically both of these types of cancers have a pretty consistent treatment plan. Leukemia treatment is a 3-year treatment term in most cases and Lymphoma is a 6 month treatment term. Chemotherapy is the most common form of treatment for blood cancers.

Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Brain and spinal cord tumors are the second most common form of pediatric cancer. While these forms of pediatric cancer do not often spread to other areas of the body, treatment plans are determined on an individual basis depending on the size, location and type of tumor that is found. Chemotherapy, radiation and steroids are often used to treat brain and spinal cord tumors. 

Solid Tumors

Common solid tumors in children are Rhabdomyosarcoma, Ewing Sarcoma and Osteosarcoma which are found in muscles and on bones and Wilms Tumor which is found on the kidneys. Solid tumor forms of childhood cancer are typically treated with chemotherapy, radiation and surgery to remove the tumors, but each treatment plan is determined individually.

One more common type of childhood cancer… 

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that originates in the nervous system and can travel to other parts of the body. Neuroblastoma is treated with chemotherapy.

Pediatric Cancer Treatments

There are two main types of treatment for pediatric cancers: chemotherapy and radiation. These two treatments can be used individually and together depending on the type of cancer that is being fought. 

Chemotherapy is an umbrella term for a family of medications that are used to destroy cancer cells. Some chemotherapy medications are given through an IV while others are taken orally. Kiddos will often go through rounds of chemo, which are when a set amount of chemo is given over a set period of time. Some rounds of chemo require that kids are admitted to the hospital for several days while they receive treatment, sometimes kids come into the hospital to receive chemo for several hours a day multiple times a week but get to go home after their treatment for the day. Some chemos are given orally at home over a longer period of time. 

Radiation is used to specifically target cancerous tumors using radioactive waves to break down the cancer cells. Radiation is typically administered for very short periods of time and repeated for several days or weeks to destroy cancerous tumors. Radiation is also frequently paired with steroid medication which also helps to shrink the tumor. 

Both forms of treatment severely weaken the kiddo’s immune system because the medication and radiation also attack healthy cells. This is one of the reasons why we build playsets for kids fighting cancer… because they cannot play on public playgrounds where there are dangerous germs. 

Surgery is an additional form of treatment for childhood cancer. Surgery is sometimes necessary to remove solid tumors as well as to place the kiddos’ port where they receive medication. 

Cancer Terms: Your quick reference dictionary 

Fever: You already know this one, but a fever for a kid fighting cancer is a temperature above 101 and is considered a true medical emergency thus a family is required to take immediate action. A fever for a cancer kiddo typically means a trip to the emergency room. 

Neutropenia: A low count of neutrophils, which is a type of white blood cell. A combination of fever/neutropenia is an automatic admission to the hospital for a cancer kiddo. 

Port-A-Cath: Also referred to as a port, is a small medical device, roughly about the size of a quarter, that is surgically placed just under the fine layer of skin on the kiddo’s chest. It is not visibly seen and is accessed via needle stick. A port can be used to administer chemo, antibiotics, IV fluids, blood and platelets and to draw blood. Around Roc Solid, we find that lots of cancer kiddos tell us that they receive their superhero powers through their port. 

Lumbar Puncture: Also called Spinal Tap, is a test in which a very small amount of spinal fluid is taken to be tested for cancer cells. This is done throughout Leukemia treatment because the spinal space can provide a safe place for Leukemia cells to hide. Chemo is also injected to prevent Leukemia cells from hiding out in the spine.

Do you feel educated? 

… we hope so! This is just an introduction to the world of pediatric cancer, but by taking the time to learn just a little about fighting pediatric cancer, you are coming alongside families who are fighting it. Fighting childhood cancer is a long and difficult journey but not a hopeless one. We can help make sure families feel seen and supported by becoming familiar with the world of childhood cancer.

Share this article with a friend during the month of September to help us all become better at making sure no family feels alone when they enter the very scary world of pediatric cancer. 

We are taking hope on the road during Childhood Cancer Awareness Month for the Play Defeats Cancer Tour! Click here to donate toward building more playsets for kids fighting cancer and to share the “I Play For” sign to honor someone you know who has been impacted by pediatric cancer. 

To learn more about Roc Solid Foundation, check out our website