Radiation Therapy for Your Child's Solid Tumor: What to Expect

Radiation treatment (RT) is used to destroy tumor cells to help control your child’s cancer. A large machine points high-energy radiation toward tumors. Radiation can kill healthy cells, too.

Internal radiation may be used for tumors in the head, neck or thyroid. It may also be used for tumors in the testes, cervix or uterus.

The doctors who kill or shrink tumors with radiation are called radiation oncologists. Using scans, ultrasound or X-ray, radiologists can track the spread of cancer as well as monitor how well the treatment is working.

Where radiation fits with overall treatment

Your child’s radiation oncologist will explain how radiation fits in with the rest of the treatment plan:

  • Why your child needs RT and how RT may help your child
  • The details about any clinical trials that your child may be eligible for
  • Whether your child will need chemo in addition to radiation
  • Whether your child will get external radiation (most children with solid tumors only get external radiation)
  • Whether your child needs internal radiation
  • What areas of your child’s body will targeted

Because radiation can harm healthy cells along with cancer cells, the radiation must be aimed in exact spots to target the tumor. This means your child’s body must be in  precise position during radiation treatments. The correct position can help kill more cancer cells while doing as little damage as possible to normal cells.

The way the radiation oncologist and other experts figure out this position is from a process called simulation. During simulation, your child will have a CT scan and sometimes an MRI to show exactly where the tumor is.

Then, the radiation team may do several things to make sure the exact places get treated each time. 

  • A staff member may put marks on your child’s skin with permanent marker or paint pen to make it easy for the radiation oncologist know where to aim each time. You may wash the area gently but do not scrub. Scrubbing can remove the marks and can also irritate your child’s skin. 
  • Instead of the marker, the therapist may place very small tattoos (freckle size) on your child’s skin using a very small, sterilized needle.
  • Your child may be fitted for a device to help keep him or her in the same position during each treatment. For instance, a mask or body mold might be made for your child. The therapist may put marks on the mask, too. 
  • Young children may wear a custom body cast so they won’t move. Or, they may be sedated.

Your child's radiation schedule

Your child will get radiation as an outpatient. How often and for how long your child will need radiation depends on the type of cancer. Your child’s radiation oncologist will explain:

  • About how long each radiation treatment will take (getting the child into the right position takes much longer than the treatment).
  • How long radiation treatment will last—the total number of treatments your child may have (a common schedule is 4 to 5 days a week for several weeks. Small daily doses help protect the skin.)
  • How many “rest” days there will be between your child’s treatments (commonly, your child won’t get RT on the weekends. This time off helps healthy cells recover.)

 

Additional Resources for Families

Refer a Solid Tumor Patient

For Patients & Families For Referring Physicians