Chemotherapy for Children
What is chemotherapy?
Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer drugs to treat cancer cells. Chemotherapy has been used for many years and is one of the most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow or reproduce. Different groups of drugs work in different ways to fight cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be used alone for some types of cancer or in combination with other treatments, such as radiation or surgery. Often, a combination of chemotherapy drugs is used to fight a specific cancer. Certain chemotherapy drugs may be given in a specific order depending on the type of cancer it's being used to treat.
While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, chemotherapy drugs reach all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. Because of this, there may be many side effects during treatment. Being able to anticipate these side effects can help you and your child prepare and, in some cases, prevent these symptoms from occurring.
How is chemotherapy administered?
Chemotherapy can be given:
As a pill to swallow
As an injection into the muscle or fat tissue
Intravenously (directly to the bloodstream through a vein; also called IV)
Topically (applied to the skin)
Directly into a body cavity
What are some of the chemotherapy drugs and their potential side effects?
The following table lists some of the chemotherapy drugs commonly used in children and some of the side effects. However, each child may experience symptoms differently and at different times of the treatment. Some side effects may occur early on (days or weeks) and some side effects may occur later (months or years) after the chemotherapy has been given. The side effects listed aren't all the possible problems that may occur. Always consult your child's doctor if your child is feeling anything unusual.
Side effects (short-term and long-term)
L-asparaginase, Elspar--usually given IV; also can be given as an injection (a shot into muscle or skin)
Busulfan, Myleran--usually given orally
Carboplatin (Paraplatin)--usually given IV
Cisplatin (cisplatinum, Platinol, Platinol-AQ)--usually given IV
Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)--can be given IV or orally (by mouth)
Cytarabine (Ara-C, cytosine arabinoside, Cytosar-U)--usually given IV and/or intrathecally (into the spinal column)
Daunorubicin (Cerubidine), doxorubicin (Adriamycin PFS, Adriamycin RDF, Rubex)--usually given IV
Etoposide (VePesid, VP-16)--may be given orally or IV, teniposide (Vumon)--usually given IV
Hydroxyurea (Hydrea)--usually given orally
Mercaptopurine (6-MP, Purinethol)--usually given orally
Methotrexate (MTX)--may be given IV, intrathecally (into the spinal column), or orally (by mouth)
Thioguanine (6-TG)--usually given orally
Thiotepa (Thioplex, Tepa)--usually given IV, intrathecally (directly into the spinal column), may be instilled in bladder, or injected into the tumor
Topotecan (Hycamtin)--given IV
Vincristine (Oncovin)--usually given IV, vinblastine (Velban, Velbe)--usually given IV