16 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Childhood Cancer

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Doctor and patientANDREI R/SHUTTERSTOCK

Second opinions help

If you’re unsure about the diagnosis, treatment options, or side effect profiles of the recommended treatment, get another opinion, Dr. Hanna suggests. “Not all cancer needs to be treated immediately. You can wait a week or two to make a long-term plan.”

doctor and nurse team treating sick boy in hospitalHRAUN/GETTY IMAGES

You need a dream team

Your child’s cancer treatment team should include an oncologist and other doctors or surgeons who will administer the treatments, social workers, nurses, art therapists, and more. “You are not alone and should never feel that you are,” Dr. Hanna says.

mother hugging sonJOSE LUIS PELAEZ INC/GETTY IMAGES

Your other children need support too

Support groups are also helpful for the child with cancer as well as any siblings, Dr. Hanna says. “Other siblings are often profoundly affected when their brother or sister has cancer.” They likely have a lot of questions and may also feel left out and guilty for feeling that way. Ask your doctor what resources are available to help them cope with what is happening. (Here are 10 ways to support a friend or relative with cancer.)

mother holding son's hand in hospital bedHRAUN/GETTY IMAGES

Thinking ahead matters

It’s only natural that your initial focus is on treating and beating the cancer, but children who are treated for cancer may experience short- and long-term side effects down the road. Some chemotherapy regimens can impair their ability to have children of their own (even though they are just children themselves), for example. In a study of childhood cancer survivors, 70 percent of women had children by the age of 45 compared to 80 percent of their sisters without cancer. Fifty percent of male cancer survivors had fathered a child (or got a partner pregnant) by age 45 compared to 80 percent of the siblings who served as the control group. The findings appear in the Lancet Oncology.

“Freezing sperm in boys is possible,” Dr. Hanna says. Girls don’t have mature eggs to freeze before they enter puberty, but ovarian tissue freezing, an experimental procedure for preserving fertility, may be an option in some cancer centers, Dr. Hanna says. “It’s important to know your options.”

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