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Pediatric Supportive Care (PDQ®): Supportive care - Patient Information [NCI] - Overview

Note: Information about physical adjustment to treatment, problems with physical and cognitive development, and life after cancer treatment will be added to this summary in the future.

The goal of supportive care is to improve the quality of life for young cancer patients and their families.

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Most children with cancer can be cured. However, cancer treatment for young patients can cause unwanted side effects and other problems during and after treatment. Early treatment of cancer symptoms and the side effects of therapy helps patients feel better, stay stronger, and cope with life after cancer. Supportive care improves the patient's physical, psychological, social, and spiritual quality of life.

Supportive care is given to children of all ages, including infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.

Cancer in children is different from cancer in adults.

Cancer in children and young adults is different from cancer that develops later in life. Childhood cancers usually do not act like adult cancers and are not treated the same way:

  • Treatment

    In general, treatments for childhood cancer use higher doses of chemotherapy and radiation than is used for adults. These treatments may also be given over a shorter amount of time than in adults. This is because children can receive more intense treatment (higher doses given over a shorter time) than adults can, before serious side effects occur.

  • Side effects

    Some of the unwanted side effects of cancer treatments cause more harm to children than they do to adults. This is because children's bodies are still growing and developing, so cancer and its treatment are more likely to affect developing organs.

    Side effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy may happen right away or weeks or years after treatment. Cancer treatment may also affect a child's growth or cause a second cancer to form. Problems that appear weeks or years after treatment are called late effects. Because of possible late effects, childhood cancer survivors need life-long follow-up. (See the PDQ summary on Late Effects of Treatment for Childhood Cancer for more information).

  • Supportive care

    The types of supportive care given to children may be different from those used for adults. For example, certain medicines used to control symptoms in adults may not be safe for children.

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