What happens during chemotherapy?
Meet Jake, who can tell you all about chemotherapy for children.
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.
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.
Depending on your child's type of brain tumour, their age, and general health, chemotherapy may be given:
Your child may be given chemotherapy in one of a number of ways:
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.
This is a less common method.
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, 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.
Chemotherapy is often given as an outpatient treatment, which means that your child won't usually have to stay in hospital overnight.
Side-effects vary from child to child and according to the drugs they have been given. As chemotherapy temporarily acts on healthy cells as well as tumour cells, it may cause some unpleasant, short-term side-effects, commonly including:
This means your child may become more likely to get infections. Precautions can be taken to deal with this increased risk. You should also check which immunisations are safe to give your child at this time.
Symptoms include extreme tiredness, shortness of breath and looking 'washed out' or pale. The tiredness will wear off once treatment has finished, but it may take a few months for their energy levels to return to normal.
Your child may feel sick (nausea) or be sick (vomit) after treatment. Not all chemotherapy drugs have this effect. Anti-sickness tablets or liquid medicine can be given.
Not all chemotherapy causes hair loss - it depends on which chemotherapy drugs your child has. It is usually temporary, but the hair may grow back differently to how it was before.
Inflammation of the inside of the mouth is a possible side-effect that is more likely with high doses. This condition can cause mouth ulcers or a sensation similar to when you burn your mouth from eating or drinking something too hot.
Your child's skin may become more sensitive (for example, to the sun and to chlorine) with chemotherapy drugs, or they may develop rashes or changes in skin colour. Take care in the sun or in swimming pools.
Sometimes, chemotherapy causes changes to taste and appetite. It can also cause diarrhoea or constipation.
Some chemotherapy drugs may cause temporary or permanent infertility (an inability to have children). It is very important to discuss any effects on your child's fertility with your child's health team before they start treatment. Boys who have been through puberty will be offered sperm banking.
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.
Page last reviewed: 02/2014
Next review due: 02/2017
Find out more about Chemotherapy for children in the full fact sheet -
including information about how to care for your child's central line.
Find out more about Chemotherapy for children in the full fact sheet - Clear print version, designed to RNIB guidelines - including information about how to care for your child's central line.
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