Children’s cancers are treated on a specialised ward in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children on the Royal Victoria Hospital site in Belfast. The unit focuses on a family centred care and all members of staff are there to care for children diagnosed with cancer, as well as help support families.
The unit provides a regional service to children up to the age of 16 from across Northern Ireland who have been diagnosed with cancer or a haematological disorder.
The following staff are involved in the care of children with cancer:
- Senior Doctors
- Ward Sisters
- Staff Nurses
- Auxillary Staff
- Student Nurses
- Play Specialists
- Belfast Hospital School Teachers
- Social Workers
- Macmillan Nurses
Children and adolescents can be diagnosed with any type of cancer. However some types are more commonly seen than others. Below is a short list of some of the types of cancer most commonly seen in children.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia
- Acute myeloid leukaemia
- Brain tumours
- Ewing’s sarcoma
- Germ cell tumours
- Hodgkin lymphoma
- Langerhans cell histiocytosis
- Liver tumours
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
- Rare tumours
- Wilm’s tumour
GPs will refer children with a suspected cancer or haematological disorder to the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children.
The next step is an appointment in the Outpatient Clinic in the Children’s Hospital with a paediatrician (a doctor who specialises in treating children) or a paediatric-oncologist (a doctor who specialises in treating children with cancer).
The doctor will examine the child and may request tests and investigations to establish the cause of any symptoms.
More information on Royal Victoria Hospital for Sick Children.
Investigation and diagnosis
Investigating symptoms may require a number of tests and scans. These tests will be done in the Children’s Hospital. The tests the child may have will depend on their symptoms and their general health.
It may take time for a diagnosis. It is important to get all the necessary information together from the tests to make sure the best treatment is given.
Some of the tests and scans may include:
- Blood tests
- Bone marrow test
- Lumbar puncture
- Ultrasound Scan
- CT Scan
- Bone Scan
The Paediatrics Cancer Multi Disciplinary Team (MDT) consists of a well established group of experts in diagnosing and treating children’s cancers.
The results of the tests that been performed will be discussed at the Paediatrics MDT meeting which takes place every week in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children. Detailed discussions between all the relevant specialists take place, looking at all the available results to ensure that the best treatment plan is agreed.
A record of this discussion will be sent to the child’s GP.
All tests are usually completed within four weeks from when the cancer was first suspected. Once a decision has been made at the MDT and this has been discussed with the family, an appointment will be arranged to see a specialist to discuss the next steps.
The type of treatment a child may receive will be based on a number of factors, including the nature of the cancer and well-being of the child. Generally the three types of treatment are:
- Surgery: Surgery involves the removal of cancerous tumour(s) from the affected areas of the body. The type of surgery performed depends on the site of the cancerous tumour(s). A doctor will discuss any surgical procedures with the family if surgery is the best treatment option.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to damage cancerous cells in the body. Unfortunately they also produce unwanted side-effects by damaging cells that are actively growing. This can lead to hair loss and mouth ulcers among other side-effects. Chemotherapy for children with cancer or a haematological disorder is given in the Royal Hospital for Sick Children.
- Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy is the use of radiation on a specific part of the body. The intention is for the radiation to destroy abnormal, cancerous cells. The abnormal cells are destroyed and any normal cells that may be damaged should grow back. Radiotherapy is given to patients in the Northern Ireland Cancer Centre which is based beside the Belfast City Hospital site. Read more information on Radiotherapy in the Cancer Centre.
Once treatment has been completed, the child will need to attend regular follow up appointments with their doctor. These appointments are needed to monitor the child’s recovery and general well being. The length and nature of the follow up program depends upon the cancer diagnosis and the treatment plan among other considerations.
Follow up appointments are also a good opportunity to gain access to the many support services provided by the Belfast Trust to people who have been affected by cancer.
The list below provides links to cancer charities and information pages concerning children’s cancer: