Pediatric Cancer Treatment
Advancements in research and clinical care have led to an improved general outlook for young cancer patients over the past several decades.
The treatment for adult cancer and pediatric cancer is not always the same. The pediatric oncologists at UT Southwestern have been specially trained to focus on the care of children with cancer. We offer leading-edge treatments for all types of childhood cancer, including ones that are particularly rare or complex.
Through our relationship with the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), a National Cancer Institute-supported clinical trials group, and other clinical trial consortia, we have access to the latest treatments, information, and support on an international level.
U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospital 2021-2022 list ranks our pediatric cancer program No. 22 in the nation.
Treatment options for childhood cancer vary depending on the type and stage of the cancer. They are often used in combination for the best results.
Surgery for Pediatric Cancer
Surgery is a common form of treatment for some types of pediatric cancer. For example, it’s a necessary part of treatment for many pediatric patients with:
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Wilms' tumor, a type of kidney cancer
- Hepatoblastoma, a type of liver cancer
When possible, we use minimally invasive surgery to minimize scarring, increase recovery time, and decrease pain.
Many of our pediatric surgeons are skilled in state-of-the-art minimally invasive surgical techniques such as:
- Laparoscopic surgery (keyhole surgery): Uses several half-inch incisions instead of one long incision to remove tumors and other cancerous tissues
- Robotic surgery: Provides 3D imaging, reduces surgeon tremor, and eliminates the inverted manipulation of instruments usually required in laparoscopic procedures
We sometimes use surgery to relieve symptoms, particularly if a tumor is pressing on a bone or nerve. This can improve the child’s quality of life rather than cure the cancer itself.
Medical Treatment for Pediatric Cancer
Chemotherapy is a medication that kills cancer cells and stops them from spreading. Chemotherapy medications can be taken as pills taken by mouth; injections; or infusions delivered intravenously into a vein, a muscle, or the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) around the brain and spinal cord.
Chemotherapy travels through the bloodstream to destroy cancer cells anywhere in the body, except for chemotherapy that is delivered into the CSF.
At UT Southwestern, we use chemotherapy as the main treatment for many types of pediatric cancer. It is may be used alongside another treatment method to increase the likelihood of success.
Radiation Therapy for Pediatric Cancer
Radiation therapy uses beams of intense energy to kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing. It may be used to treat pediatric cancers such as:
We were the first in Texas to offer the Gamma Knife Icon, the gold standard for treating cancer patients with inoperable brain tumors or brain metastases (cancer that has spread to the brain from elsewhere).
Stem Cell Transplant for Pediatric Cancer
A stem cell transplant, also called a bone marrow transplant, is a procedure that uses healthy stem cells to stimulate the bone marrow to produce healthy blood cells.
Before a stem cell transplant, the patient receives high-dose chemotherapy to kill abnormal cells in the bone marrow. Then healthy, new stem cells are delivered intravenously, similar to chemotherapy delivery or a blood transfusion.
A stem cell transplant is a common treatment for pediatric blood cancer. We might use this as the first treatment (along with high-dose chemotherapy) for certain types of leukemia. For most types of lymphoma, however, we use stem cell transplants after primary treatment to help prevent the blood cancer from returning.
Immunotherapy for Childhood Cancer
Biological therapy, also called immunotherapy, works to increase the immune system’s natural anticancer response.
CAR T-cell therapy, a type of immunotherapy, is a noninvasive treatment that uses an approach known as adoptive cell transfer (ACT). During this treatment, a specific type of white blood cells, called T-cells, are collected, modified, and returned to the patient through an infusion. CAR T-cell therapy is used to treat certain cases of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and is being investigated in clinical trials for other cancers.
Other immune system-based therapies include the treatment of neuroblastoma patients with a manufactured humanized antibody. In addition, novel medications called checkpoint inhibitors also work to increase the body’s immune system’s natural anticancer response and have been integrated into the treatment of childhood cancer.