Over the past half century, survival rates for children with cancer have risen dramatically. More than 80 percent of children diagnosed with cancer are cured, whereas in 1975, that was true for just a fraction of patients. This big increase is the result of major advances in cancer treatments and decades of clinical trials.
In both children and adults, cancer begins when abnormal cells in the body start to grow uncontrollably. Certain types of cancer are more likely to develop in children, including acute leukemias, neuroblastoma, retinoblastoma, bone sarcomas, and brain (or central nervous system) tumors.
For each child with cancer, the treatment plan depends on the type of cancer and where it’s located in the body. Perhaps the most common options for pediatric cancer patients (infancy to age 18) is chemotherapy. Surgery and radiation therapy also play a key role in treating certain types of pediatric cancers.
“Previously our treatment for cancer would include a combination of chemotherapy plus either surgery or radiation, or sometimes a combination of both,” says Farzana Pashankar, MD, a hematologist-oncologist in Yale Medicine’s Pediatrics Department and a member of Yale Cancer Center’s Pediatric Hematology & Oncology Program. “However now we've expanded the arsenal to include immunotherapy as well.”