While the mortality rates for many pediatric cancers have significantly declined thanks to continued advancements in medical technology and procedures, it can be overwhelming for families to face such a diagnosis. It may be particularly challenging to understand a diagnosis involving rare tumors in children, as many of these diseases are still without a known cause.
However, the team of pediatric oncologists and multidisciplinary specialists at the Children’s Blood and Cancer Center are dedicated to providing the highest quality care using state-of-the-art technology and treatment options to promote your child’s health and wellbeing every step of the way.
Wellness and Prevention
While the cause of most rare childhood cancers remains unknown, there is a possibility that many of these diseases can be inherited and, therefore, may be unpreventable. Understanding the various types of rare cancers found in children and teens, however, can be a useful first step in the diagnosis and treatment process. Most rare tumors fall into one of these groupings:
- Rare cancers that are only found in children, such as pancreatoblastoma, malignant rhabdoid tumors and melanotic neuroectodermal tumors
- Cancers that typically only affect adults, including adrenal and thyroid cancers
- Rare head and neck cancers such as nasopharyngeal carcinoma, which affects the nasal cavity and throat
- Rare tumors affecting the endocrine system, including pheochromocytoma and paraganglioma
- Rare skin cancers such as melanoma
- Rare brain tumors
Depending on the type and location of your child’s symptoms, oncologists may utilize a number of diagnostic tests:
- Physical exam to assess any physical symptoms such as lumps or localized pain, as well as to obtain a general medical history
- Imaging tests like MRIs, CAT scans and PET scans to create detailed images of areas inside the body that may be affected
- Blood tests to analyze the number of and makeup of certain types of blood cells
- Biopsy to obtain tissue samples to further analyze cell makeup
- Spinal tap to check for cancer cells in brain and spinal cord fluid
Following an accurate diagnosis, our team of specialists will create a treatment plan for your child based on the type, size and location of the cancer. In some cases, multiple treatment types can offer the most comprehensive approach. This may include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or stem cell transplantation.
Surgery to remove as much of your child’s tumor as possible is often a preferred method of treatment. This procedure can also be combined with radiation therapy or chemotherapy in order to shrink the size of larger tumors.
Using high-energy radiation, radiation therapy is aimed at killing cancer cells and preventing their continued growth. In some cases, this method may be combined with chemotherapy to increase its effectiveness, or may be used prior to surgery to shrink cancer cells.
Chemotherapy is the use of chemicals in the form of oral or intravenous medications in order to disable and destroy cancer cells. As with other treatment methods, chemotherapy can be used on its own or in combination with surgery, radiation therapy or other specialized treatments.
Stem Cell Transplantation
Depending on the type, stage and responsiveness of your child’s cancer, a stem cell transplant may be a necessary step in treatment. This procedure replaces unhealthy cells with healthy cells from either your child or a donor.
The care that our pediatric oncologists provide for your child extends beyond diagnosis and treatment. Following completion of your child’s treatment, we will connect you and your family with community resources that can offer support, as well as schedule regular follow-up appointments. During these visits, specialists can monitor your child’s progress and detect any new health problems that may surface. Maintaining regular check-ins with your doctor is an important step in your child’s long-term recovery.