Pediatric oncologists are doctors who diagnose and treat cancer in children and teens. Many pediatric oncologists also specialize in hematology, or the treatment of blood disorders, and are referred to as pediatric oncologist/hematologists.
Pediatric oncologists can continue to treat people with cancer until they reach their 20s. A pediatric oncologist has specific knowledge about helping children understand and navigate a cancer diagnosis.
What Does a Pediatric Oncologist Do?
Pediatric oncologists examine patients, order and analyze tests, and administer treatments. After pediatric oncologists give a cancer diagnosis, they manage the treatments they prescribe.
Pediatric hematologist/oncologists specialize in caring for children who have blood diseases and cancer.
Education and Training
To become a pediatric oncologist, one must typically complete:
- A doctor of medicine (MD) degree or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO) degree
- A 3-year residency in pediatrics
- Certification from the American Board of Pediatrics
- At least a 3-year fellowship in pediatric oncology
A pediatric oncologist may also study hematology and be certified as a pediatric oncologist/hematologist.
Reasons to See a Pediatric Oncologist
You only need to visit a pediatric oncologist if you have a child or teen who has been diagnosed with or may have cancer. Children are usually referred to oncologists by their pediatricians. The symptoms of pediatric cancer can be hard to detect and may include:
- Bone pain, joint pain, weakness, weight loss, or bleeding (may be signs of leukemia)
- Vomiting, dizziness, headache, or balance problems (may be signs of a brain tumor)
- Diarrhea, droopy eyelids or dark circles under the eyes, and bodily pain (may be signs of neuroblastoma, or cancer of the nervous system)
Many other things can cause symptoms such as these. If it is cancer, choosing a pediatric oncologist is an important decision you’ll have to make.
Finding the Right Pediatric Oncologist
When you find yourself in need of a pediatric oncologist, there are many things to consider. Cancer is rarer in children than in adults, so you'll want to do plenty of research on potential doctors, including:
- Getting referrals from your pediatrician
- Researching medical association databases to find doctors’ names
- Comparing doctors’ credentials
- Ensuring that doctors are taking new patients
- Speaking with the doctor's support staff
- Making an appointment to talk with the doctor you think will be the best fit
Important Questions to Ask
Once you've narrowed down your search, there are some important questions you should ask the pediatric oncologists on your list.
These questions include:
- How long have you practiced pediatric oncology?
- How many children have you treated with my child's type of cancer?
- Where will my child be treated?
- How do you stay informed on the latest cancer research and treatments?
- Do you look for clinical trials that your patients could join in?
What to Expect at the Pediatric Oncologist
On your first visit to a pediatric oncologist, you can expect to discuss your child’s symptoms, and the next steps. If your child has already been diagnosed, you’ll also discuss treatment options and how to manage the cancer.
Treatments your doctor may consider include:
Clinical trials may also be an option. In clinical trials, researchers study new treatments. If you’re interested, your doctor can help you find trials that might be a good fit and help you know what’s involved so you can decide if you want to take part.
Your pediatric oncologist will help guide you and your child through treatment and care options. Be sure to ask questions at any point and make sure you know what the risks and benefits are. One of the most important parts of the pediatric oncologist's job is to help your child feel at ease during their journey through cancer.