Children Diagnosed With Cancer: Dealing With Diagnosis

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How can parents be sure their child gets the best treatment?

“Where can my child get the best available treatment?” is one of the first questions parents ask. Childhood cancer is still quite rare. Most pediatricians and family doctors will see only a handful of cases in all their years of practice. These doctors are often the first to suspect cancer based on the child’s symptoms. They’ll usually refer their patient to the nearest major medical center staffed with experts trained to diagnose and treat childhood cancers. Studies show that children being cared for by pediatric cancer specialists have better chances of surviving cancer.

Use childhood cancer centers.

Both the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society recommend that children with cancer be treated at childhood cancer centers. These centers use a comprehensive team approach to care. Teams include doctors, nurses, social workers, psychologists, recreation therapists or child life workers, teachers, and chaplains. The whole team has experience in caring for young people with cancer and their families. Medical center teams work closely with primary care doctors and others in the child’s community to offer children the best quality of care.

In the United States, most major centers that treat childhood cancers are members of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). This is a clinical trials group devoted to childhood and adolescent cancer research. It’s supported by the National Cancer Institute. Pediatric hematologists and oncologists in this group work together to design scientific studies called clinical trials to study which treatments work best for which cancers. These clinical trials compare standard treatments to newer, possibly better ones. State-of-the-art treatment is given according to a detailed plan (called a protocol). You can learn more by reading Pediatric Cancer Center Information on our website, which also tells you how to find a COG center near you.

More children survive childhood cancers today because so many parents and their children have taken part in clinical trials. More than 90% of children and teens with cancer in the US take part in clinical trials. Taking part in research studies (clinical trials) is always voluntary. All major childhood cancer centers also offer standard treatment, which is a plan based on the best known treatment for the child’s cancer type and stage. If you’d like to learn more about clinical trials, please read our document called Clinical Trials: What You Need to Know.

Local pediatricians or family doctors usually talk with parents about the possibilities of being diagnosed and treated nearby. They will then refer the child for treatment based on family preferences or the options offered by the family’s health insurance or managed care organization. Many times, families must travel some distance from home to get the care their child needs. But parents in these situations can ask what treatment is available at the nearest large hospital. Sometimes a local hospital or treatment center can work with a pediatric cancer center to follow the treatment plan designed at the pediatric center. Much of the treatment can then be given closer to home.

Teens can benefit from childhood cancer centers, too.

Sometimes older teens are sent to oncologists in their community who treat adult patients, rather than to major medical centers that treat children. But older teens may qualify for clinical trials used by pediatric (children’s) hematologists/oncologists. They also may be helped by the team approach to care used in the childhood cancer centers. Most children’s cancer centers treat patients up to the age of 20.


Last Medical Review: 09/22/2014
Last Revised: 10/09/2014