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Chemotherapy for children with a brain tumour

Chemotherapy is one way your child may be treated for a brain tumour. Chemotherapy uses drugs to destroy tumour cells by interrupting or stopping their growth. Chemotherapy can be used on its own, with radiotherapy, or it may be used before or after surgery.

How does chemotherapy work?

Our bodies are made up of cells that divide to reproduce and repair themselves. Cytotoxic drugs used in chemotherapy disturb the dividing process of both tumour cells and healthy cells. Healthy cells are better able to repair themselves, whilst tumour cells are more likely to die.

Why is chemotherapy given?

Depending on your child's type of brain tumour, their age, and general health, chemotherapy may be given:

  • Before surgery - to shrink a tumour to make it easier to operate on
  • After surgery - to prevent a tumour from returning
  • To treat a tumour that has returned
  • To shrink a tumour that cannot be operated on
  • To prevent further growth of a tumour
  • Before, during or after radiotherapy.

How is chemotherapy given?

Your child may be given chemotherapy in one of a number of ways:

By injection into a vein (intravenously)

This is the usual method and may be given via a central line, a PICC line or a portacath. The type of 'line' your child has will depend on factors, such as your child's age and tumour type. The line is put in under general anaesthetic and stays in place until your child's chemotherapy treatment has finished. You will be taught by your child's health team how to care for the line.

As tablets or liquid to be swallowed (orally)

This is a less common method. If your child is given chemotherapy by this method, wear disposable gloves when handling the medication, particularly if you are pregnant. Do NOT crush the tablets.

Chemotherapy drugs can have an unpleasant after-taste - giving you child flavoured chewing gum or a sweet afterwards can help to disguise the taste.

How long will chemotherapy last?

Your child's health team will plan and tailor your child's treatment based on the type of tumour your child has, your child's age, the amount of tumour removed (where relevant), and your child's general health.

It could vary from daily chemotherapy for a while as a day-case in hospital, to several days on a ward every few weeks.

These cycles of treatment can be given over 3 months to 12 months, or even longer.

Will my child need to stay in hospital?

Chemotherapy is often given as an outpatient treatment, which means that your child won't usually have to stay in hospital overnight.

How will we know if chemotherapy has worked?

During and after treatment, your child will be monitored using scans to check how well the treatment is working, e.g. for any changes to their tumour.

Get your free brain tumour information pack

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