In Part 1 of this series we explained that this series of articles is not meant to be medical advice, but a guide that may help you as a parent of a newly diagnosed child with cancer cope just a bit better. Information is knowledge, and never more so than when you are dealing with childhood cancer!
These articles are meant to help you be the key part of your child’s treatment that you will need to be.
Take what works for you according to your situation and your child’s temperament, personality, fears, strengths, and how they deal with adversity, and leave what does not pertain to your situation.
Part 5 will deal with Different Types of Treatment and Possible Side-Effects of that treatment. As this is quite a long section, it has been split it into 5(i) Surgery 5(ii) Chemotherapy 5(iii) Radiation Therapy 5(iv) Immunotherapy and 5(v) Bone Marrow and Peripheral Blood Stem Cell Transplants.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine treatment (CAM) is very involved and will contain a lot of information, so that will be dealt with separately in Part 6 of this series of articles
Radiation Therapy is treatment that uses high-energy rays to damage or destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy, like surgery, is a local therapy, which means that only the area where the tumour occurs is treated. The treatment destroys cancer cells in the treated area.
Radiation therapy may be used before surgery to shrink a tumour; it could also be used after surgery to stop the growth of cancer cells that remain.
How Radiation Therapy Works
Every single cell in the human body, including cancer cells, contains DNA, which tells the cells how to grow. The hi-energy rays used in radiation therapy target the DNA in the cancerous cells, causing them to die before cells are made. As the cancer cells die off, the tumour will shrink.
Getting Ready for Radiation Therapy
A radiologist, or doctor who specialises in radiation treatment, will explain the treatment to both you and your child before the time. The doctor will mark the exact areas on your child’s body where the radiation will be directed; this ensures that the radiation treatment is given in the same place each time (radiation therapy is a series of treatments). The markings are actually like small tattoos, but the skin is pricked very gently and this does not hurt.
The skin may become tender during radiation treatment, but it is important to avoid using lotions or soaps near the markings or the part of the body where the treatment is taking place. If the area becomes sore, speak to the radiation team about what can be done to bring relief.
Some children may find the machinery used for radiation treatment a bit scary. Speak to the doctor and ask if you and your child can be given a tour of the area before the first treatment so that the child can become familiar with the machinery.
What Happens During Radiation Therapy
To avoid you being exposed to radiation, you will not be allowed to be in the room with your child during radiation treatments. Parts of your child’s body that are not being treated will be protected with lead shields. Your child does not become radioactive through radiation therapy, so you need not fear being near him or her.
Radiation Therapy is similar to getting an x-ray, so it does not hurt ~ your child will just have to hold still longer than they do for an x-ray. Some children are very active and find it difficult to keep still, so the doctor may opt to give this type of child some medicine to either relax or put him or her to sleep for the duration of the treatment.
Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
The high doses of radiation used in radiation therapy to kill the cancer cells may also damage some of the healthy cells, which may cause side effects. The side effect depends on the treatment dose and the part of the body that is being treated.
The most common side effects of radiation therapy are listed in the following table:
Long-Term Side Effects of Radiation Therapy
Your child may also experience some long-term side effects from radiation treatment later on. Radiation to the brain could cause learning and coordination problems, especially in very young children. Because of this, it may be a good idea to consider neuropsychological testing following treatment.
Radiation therapy could also affect your child’s growth, and can sometimes result in a second cancer forming in the treated area years after treatment. Because of this, your doctor may delay radiation treatment or prefer to use another form of treatment such as chemotherapy.
Remember, if you are not sure of anything, speak to a professional on your child’s oncology treatment team; they will be only too glad to help give you information or allay any fears you or your child may have regarding the treatment.
You are not alone in this; there are many individuals out there able and willing to lend a hand, some support, or even just listen – do not be afraid to reach out for help!
Do some research on the internet, reach out to an organisation like Little Fighters Cancer Trust for a bit of support and information and/or access to resources that will help you find out more and make an informed decision regarding your child’s treatment.
Part V (iv) of this series will deal with “Immunotherapy”