Chemotherapy for Children

Your child’s care team at Rush University Children’s Hospital understands that treating children who have cancer with chemotherapy is different than treating adults. They are dedicated to finding the most effective treatments to fight your child’s cancer, while also minimizing side effects from chemo.

Remarkable Care for Kids

  • Advanced treatment options: Rush University Children’s Hospital offers promising chemotherapy treatment options for many childhood cancers. As a member of the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), Rush offers our patients opportunities to participate in clinical trials that help evaluate new combinations of chemotherapy treatments.
  • Support during treatment: Specialists at Rush understand that having a child with cancer affects your entire family. We offer your child, you and your entire family a wide range of support services, including psychological services, education resources, financial counseling and nutritional support.
  • A kid-friendly inpatient experience: Child Life Services specialists at Rush University Children’s Hospital can help your child — and you — cope with the physical, social and emotional challenges of hospitalization.
  • Pediatric infusion services: The Pediatric Infusion Center at Rush provides personalized care from a team of pediatric specialists in a comfortable setting designed just for kids and their families.

What is chemotherapy for children?

Chemotherapy is a group of medications used to treat cancer and some blood disorders in children. Chemo attacks cells that grow and multiply quickly, like cancer cells.

The cancers that most commonly affect children usually respond well to chemotherapy because they are cancers that grow fast. Also, children can recover from higher doses of chemotherapy than adults can. This makes treatment more effective.

Your child’s care team — which may include pediatric oncologists, surgeons, infusion nurses and other specialists — will work  closely with you, your child and each other to determine the best chemotherapy plan for your child.

How your child will receive chemotherapy

Your child will receive chemotherapy in one of the following ways:

  • Through intravenous tube: Your child will have a small tube inserted into a vein, usually in the arm. The intravenous (IV) tube is attached to a bag that holds liquid medication. The medication flows from the bag into your child’s body through the IV.
  • By injection: Your child may receive shots of medication into their muscle, skin or spine.
  • By mouth: Your child may need to swallow a pill, capsule or liquid medication.
  • On the skin: Medication may be in the form of a cream rubbed into your child’s skin.

The way that your child receives chemo will depend on the type of medication your child receives. Your child’s care team will discuss with you what chemo drugs are best to treat the type of cancer your child has.

Most children receive chemo on an outpatient basis. Sometimes, a child receiving chemo may need to be hospitalized so doctors can monitor and treat side effects.

Chemo is often given in cycles. This means your child will alternate between periods of treatment and periods of rest. This helps your child recover and regain strength before the next round of treatment.

Short-term side effects

Chemotherapy fights cancer by destroying cells that grow and divide quickly. There are also healthy cells in your child’s body that grow and divide quickly. When chemo destroys these healthy cells, it can cause the following side effects:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain
  • Skin irritation
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Mouth sores
  • Hair loss
  • Anemia
  • Weakened immune system

Your child’s care team will try to find the best balance between aggressively treating your child’s cancer and limiting side effects.

If your child experiences side effects, talk with your child’s care team. There are ways to ease many of these side effects until chemo treatments are completed.

Luckily, these side effects are temporary. As your child’s body recovers from chemo treatment, these side effects slowly go away.

Long-term side effects

Chemo can cause long-term side effects, also called late effects. Your child’s care team aims to treat your child’s cancer while minimizing late effects.

The risk to your child depends on the type of medications that your child receives, as well as dose, age during treatment, and many other factors. Your child’s care team will discuss the possibilities of late effects, which may include the following:

  • Organ damage
  • Delayed growth
  • Delayed cognitive development
  • Increased risk of cancer later in life

Follow-up care

Your child will need regular check-ups even after completing treatment. This way, your child’s care team can monitor your child’s health. Monitoring includes making sure that the cancer has not returned, and checking for any side effects caused by treatment.

At Rush’s long-term follow-up clinic, your child’s care team will include an oncologist, nurse educator and psychologist. They work closely with your child’s primary care clinician to monitor your child for possible late effects of chemotherapy.