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Which Cancer Center Is Right for Your Child?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 20, 2020

One of the most important decisions you’ll make about your child’s cancer care is where they should get treatment.

Your pediatric oncologist may recommend a cancer center. It may be a good choice for your child. But there are hundreds of cancer hospitals in the U.S. To find one that’s best for your child, it’s important to research your full options and ask the right questions.

Children’s Hospital vs. Adult Hospital

Most children and teens are treated at a hospital that belongs to the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). This organization includes experts and researchers at more than 200 hospitals who focus solely on pediatric cancers.

COG-member cancer centers offer a full range of support to ensure the best care for children as well as their families. Specialists include social workers, psychologists, and nutritionists. You may want to ask if the hospital has such services as:

  • Pet or art therapy
  • Coordinating treatment with your child’s school
  • Allowing your child to see or play with other kids receiving treatment
  • Programs for siblings

Some older teens may be able to get treated at an adult cancer center instead. That might be a better choice if your family lives far from a pediatric cancer center and your child has school or other obligations that make travel difficult.

Unusual Cancers

Some cancers are rare in children. They include thyroid cancers and melanomas, which are skin cancers. If your child has a type that is uncommon or hard to treat, it can help to go to a doctor who has a lot of experience with that particular cancer.

You also can check into National Cancer Institute (NCI) Designated Cancer Centers. These hospitals may offer certain treatments, including unproven therapies being tested in clinical trials, which are unavailable elsewhere.

There are only 64 of these NCI-designated hospitals in 32 states and in Washington, D.C. Most of them treat adults and children, and some treat only children.

Costs

Cancer treatment can be very expensive. Some hospitals provide treatment even if your family can’t pay. Others may accept only certain types of insurance. That could leave you with big out-of-network charges.

Ask if the cancer center has a financial navigator and a social worker who can help you figure out your potential treatment costs. Also check if they give financial aid to cover some of your bills. Some hospitals may provide housing for families during treatment or discounted rates at nearby lodging.

What to Ask

One good way to start your search is to look up hospitals in the Children’s Oncology Group network closest to where you live. Contact them and find out:

  • If they have specialists who have treated the type of cancer your child has
  • How many others with the same cancer as your child the oncologist has treated
  • If the doctors are board-certified
  • If your pediatric oncologist has published research on your child’s type of cancer
  • Chances that your child can join a clinical trial (This may be the best shot for a cure for some children.)
  • Which other hospitals or doctors they recommend
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Cancer Institute: “NCI-Designated Cancer Centers,” “Rare Cancers of Childhood Treatment (PDQ) -- Health Professional Version.”

American Cancer Society: “Navigating the Health Care System When Your Child Has Cancer,” “Finding a Pediatric Cancer Center,” “NCI Cancer Center Program Information.”

Children’s Oncology Group: “For Patients and Families,” “Find a COG Center.”

Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: “What to Consider When You Are Picking a Pediatric Cancer Surgeon.”

Medicare: “Hospital Compare: “What is Hospital Compare?”

PAN Foundation: “The Emerging Role of the Financial Navigator.”

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