The diagnosis and management of cancer is a complex process. It relies on the knowledge, skills and experience of a multidisciplinary team to provide pediatric cancer patients with optimal care.
A cancer care team generally include specialists from many areas, including physicians such as medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, surgical oncologist, pathologists, and other health care professionals such as nurses, physical therapists and social workers.
Some of the different types of physicians who may be involved in your child’s care are listed below.
- A medical oncologist is an experienced medical doctor who provides a diagnosis and cancer care management. A medical oncologist is generally the primary physician taking care of a child’s cancer-related problems, and can prescribe chemotherapy to treat cancer.
- A radiation oncologist is a medical physician with expertise in using radiation to treat cancer. Examples of radiation therapy are external beam radiation, brachytherapy and radioimmunotherapy.
- A surgical oncologist is a specially trained surgeon who has expertise in treating cancer with surgery.
- A pathologist is a medical physician who has an important role in diagnosing cancer. These physicians are highly trained to evaluate blood and tissues samples to make an accurate cancer diagnosis. This step is critical as further cancer treatment depends on this diagnosis.
- Other specialists – Depending on complications that may arise from treatment, physicians who specialize in other areas may become part of your child’s cancer care team. Examples include physicians who specialize in treating infections, the nervous system, the gastrointestinal system, and many others.
The goal of all cancer treatments is to destroy the cancer cells inside the pediatric patient’s body. Connecticut Children’s board certified oncologists use surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of treatments, depending on the type of cancer, stage of disease, expected benefits, risks and many other factors.
- Surgery is used to physically remove all or part of the cancer from the body, often in tandem with chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Chemotherapy targets cancer using specific drugs that slow down cell division, so that abnormal cancerous cells cannot reproduce as quickly.
- Radiation therapy destroys the DNA of cancer cells and shrinks tumors using high-energy rays, usually delivered from outside of the body.
These treatment options may be used alone or in some combination to treat childhood leukemia and other cancers.
For children diagnosed with lymphoma, a bone marrow transplant is the generally the best course of treatment. A bone marrow transplant replaces diseased bone marrow with healthy bone marrow, either with the patient’s own marrow that has been removed and treated, or with healthy marrow from a donor. Bone marrow is the soft tissue inside bones that produces blood cells.