One in 300 children will be diagnosed with cancer before their 19th birthday. There are currently over 200 children under 16 in active treatment for cancer. Treatments are harsh and can cause life-long side effects. It is estimated that there are over 6000 adult survivors of childhood cancer living in Ireland.
Types of Childhood Cancer
Childhood cancers are different from adult cancers and tend to occur in other areas of the body. Different types are most common at different ages. Each major type has countless subtypes and requires specific research to develop the best treatment.
All figures are provided by the National Cancer Registry Ireland (NCRI) and refer to children in Ireland aged 0-19.
Dealing with diagnosis
Following a cancer diagnosis, things happen fast. Families often find themselves in a whirlwind of hospital visits, information, treatment plans and medications. They can be overwhelmed and frightened, often comparing the experience to being on a rollercoaster. To assist parents and families during this difficult time there is a general explanation of different cancer types, treatments and medical terms here. There are also links to other internationally recognised websites for more detailed explanations of specific cancers and treatments.
We recommend that all parents inform themselves as best they can in order to talk to the doctors about the best treatment plan for your child. If you are finding the whole experience overwhelming perhaps another family member can do some research for you and accompany you to appointments with the medical team, to take notes and ask questions. Based on the experience of parents who have gone through treatment we recommend that you purchase a diary and keep a record of all meetings with your doctor. Many of the terms used will be new to you and you will be meeting lots of new people. It is helpful to take notes of the names of medical staff and treatments. It may be necessary to keep records of medicine dosage and times given and a diary can be very helpful for this.
Treatment for childhood cancer varies greatly by cancer type. Treatment generally includes surgery – to remove a tumour or affected lymph glands – chemotherapy and radiotherapy. Some newer protocols also include bone marrow transplant and immunotherapy. Some children also undergo bone marrow transplant and immunotherapy treatment. Blood and platelet transfusions are also common. Most children have a Broviac or Hickman line inserted into their chest and about half also need feeding tubes inserted in their nose or stomach to prevent weight loss.
In St John's Ward in Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin, your child will be treated by a specialist team who will manage their cancer treatment and also any side effects that your child may have. As well as the doctors and specialist nurses your child will have access to physiotherapists, occupational therapists, audiologists, dieticians, dentists, pharmacists and psychologists. Most important to the kids - there is a play specialist available to help them through tough days in hospital. There is also a social worker to advise you of your family’s entitlements at this difficult time. Details of financial supports are also listed here. The children have access to complementary therapy, massage and reflexology by a Paedriatric Oncology nurse who is also trained in complementary therapy. There is a teacher on the ward also who will help your child to keep up with school work if he/she wishes. Please make staff aware of any issues you or your child are having and they will direct you to the appropriate help. There are many agencies and groups who offer different types of help.
When your child is diagnosed with cancer you may wish to help them by seeking complementary therapies or alternatives to medical treatment. Some complementary therapies can be used without harm, such as aromatherapy and reflexology. However other therapies and special diets should be used with caution. If your child is receiving chemotherapy or other medical treatment from the hospital these may react with alternative treatments and cause significant harm to your child. You should consult with your child’s medical team before commencing any alternative therapy.