Cancer Surgery for Children

Pediatric oncologists and pediatric surgeons at Rush University Children’s Hospital understand that diagnosing and treating children who have cancer with surgery is different from treating and diagnosing adults. Your child’s care team is dedicated to using the latest diagnostic, surgical and medical therapies to diagnose and treat your child’s cancer, while also minimizing side effects from surgery and treatment.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • A kid-friendly inpatient experience: Child Life Services specialists at Rush University Children’s Hospital help your child cope with the physical, social and emotional challenges of surgery and hospitalization.
  • The latest reconstructive techniques: At the Rush Center for Limb Preservation, specialists use the latest technology to save limbs and minimize surgeries for children with sarcomas (bone cancers), such as self-lengthening implants that grow with your child.
  • Support during treatment: Pediatric cancer specialists at Rush understand that having a child with cancer affects your entire family. Rush offers your child and your entire family a wide range of support services, including psychological services, education resources, financial counseling and nutritional support.
  • Focus on quality of life: Pediatric palliative care specialists offer an additional layer of care and support to your child throughout cancer surgery and treatment. Palliative care focuses on improving your child’s quality of life, managing pain and providing emotional support for your child and your family.

What is cancer surgery for children?

If your child has cancer or if your child’s doctor suspects cancer, your child may need surgery. Your child may need cancer surgery for one of the following reasons:

  • To diagnose cancer: This type of surgery can determine if your child has cancer, the type of cancer your child has, and other details, such as the size of a tumor and if it has spread.
  • To treat cancer: This type of surgery can remove all or most of a solid tumor.
  • To support cancer treatment: This surgery can help your child and their care team manage treatment. This can include inserting a catheter or tube that allows your child’s care team to access to a vein without having to stick your child with a needle for chemotherapy or blood samples.
  • To address side effects: Your child may need palliative surgery to relieve pain or to fix a problem caused by the cancer.

Types of cancer surgery

Your child’s care team will discuss with you and your family what surgical options are available for your child. There are two main types of surgery:

  • Minimally invasive surgery uses small incisions (cuts) and special tools designed to fit through these small incisions. This type of surgery allows for a quicker recovery than open surgery.
  • Open surgery, or conventional surgery, may be the only way to remove a large tumor or access a certain area of the body.

What to expect

Your child’s care team will explain to you why they need to perform surgery and how to prepare your child. Your child may not be allowed to eat or drink for a certain amount of time before surgery.

You will also find out where your child’s surgery will take place. Some surgeries may be short and take place in an outpatient procedure room. Your child may be able to go home that same day. Other surgeries may take hours and require recovery in the hospital.

Your child may receive chemotherapy before or after the surgery. Your child’s pediatric oncologist will coordinate care with the pediatric surgeon.

Coping with surgery and hospitalization

Child life specialists and licensed clinical psychologists  at Rush University Children’s Hospital can help your family prepare for surgery and cope with recovery. For example, your child can tour the different areas of the hospital — including the operating room, recovery room and inpatient room — before surgery.

During recovery in the hospital, child life specialists will visit with your child to help them cope with hospitalization and understand their feelings. They will also spend time playing with your child and/or inviting them to participate in activities.