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Childhood cancer is a rare disease.

Every year one child in 8,000 under age 17 will develop cancer. The annual incidence for children age 0 to 17 is 129 per million. There are about 130 new cases diagnosed in children under age 17 each year in BC.

Treatment & care

Childhood cancers differ from adult cancers in how they are presented and in their cell type and rate of growth. 

Typically, childhood cancers respond well to treatment and children with cancer have a better chance today of living a longer life than ever before. There has been a steady decline in the mortality rate for cancer of children over the last 20 years. 

The likelihood of cure depends on the type of cancer and the extent of disease. Cure rates continue to improve as new knowledge is gathered through basic research and applied in clinical trials.

Family Handbook for Children with Cancer has been developed by Children’s Oncology Group. It is an excellent source of information and is given to parents when their child has been diagnosed with cancer.

Caring for your child's illness

Children with cancer requiring chemotherapy can benefit from the placement of a central venous access device.  These devices allow delivery of chemotherapy and other medications, and sampling of blood.

There are two main types of central venous access: 

The doctor will discuss each type with you and decide which is most appropriate for your child and his/her treatment.  

Parents are taught how to take care of the catheter before their child is discharged from the hospital.  

The booklet Central Line Teaching for Families may help you learn about external central venous catheter care.



Children receiving treatment for cancer are at increased risk of infection. Chemotherapy and radiation destroy the white blood cells that help fight infection in the body. The weakened immune system can no longer keep the bacteria that are normally present in the child's mouth and bowels in check.

Infections can be dangerous for children with cancer, and the best way to prevent infection is to practice good hygiene.  Good and frequent hand washing is one of the easiest and most effective way to help decrease infections in your child and prevent the spread of infection to others.

Hand hygiene

Information taken from the BC Centre for Disease Control.

What is it?

Apheresis (pronounced a-fur-ee-sis) is the process of: 

  • removing whole blood from a patient
  • separating the blood into each of its components 
  • removing the desired component and 
  • giving back the remaining components back to the patient. 

In some cases, additional blood products are infused along with the remaining blood components.

What is in the blood?


  • Red blood cells carry oxygen around the body.
  • White blood cells help prevent and fight infections.
  • Platelets are small particles which help the blood to clot.
  • Plasma is the liquid part of the blood made up mainly of dissolvable substances. It carries minerals, hormones, vitamins, and antibodies.


Recovery is an important part of the treatment for a brain, spinal cord or solid tumour. 

Recovery can occur at different times in a child’s treatment.  

The type and amount of rehabilitation will depend on what your child needs. It will help your child become stronger and be the best he or she can be.  

Your child will start rehabilitation as soon as possible and will continue as long as he or she needs it. The rehabilitation professionals on your team will review your child’s needs and help you tap into the most useful resources for your child.

If your child needs more intensive rehabilitation after surgery, he or she may spend some time at Sunnyhill Health Centre for Children for young children or GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre for youth.

Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy are available through different sources both in hospital and in your community. Some of them are:

If you have questions about rehabilitation services, please talk to your oncology team.


Making treatment decisions

Complementary and alternative therapies generally refer to therapies that are unconventional and that are not necessarily based on scientific evidence that have been proven to be effective. As patients or parents, you will be faced with many treatment decisions including unconventional therapies offered by those outside of the BC Children’s Hospital oncology team. 

We believe there is a role for complementary and alternative therapies to promote improved quality of life, maintain hope, enhance feelings of control, and encourage healing along the cancer journey. At the same time, there are some people who would promise unproven curative treatment at a time when you may be most vulnerable.

Our goal is to create a relationship of openness and trust and to help you in making informed decisions about complementary and alternative therapies. Please discuss with your oncologist if you are considering other options of treatment, and we will do our best to help guide you in your decisions about complementary/alternative therapies.

Questions you may want to think about

  • What am I hoping this treatment will do?
  • What is the research behind the treatment? Are researchers actually looking at how it works on the type of cancer my child has, or is the information based purely on what people say?
  • How does the treatment work?
  • What are the side effects? (Be wary of claims of ‘NO’ side effects; no drug or natural product is without side effects).
  • What is the cost in both time and money?

Often families ask us about specific treatments, treatment centers and resources. Here are some links that may be helpful.  We encourage you to discuss anything you read on these links with your oncology team.




The diagnosis and treatment of cancer affects every member of the family. Caring for a child with cancer taxes both your practical and emotional resources. 

In general, families are resilient. But even the strongest families need help during tough times. Your family may find extra support helpful as you go through this journey together. Counseling is one way of helping.  Please talk to your social worker about the ways she can help you.

Your family is your child’s best support, but there are programs that can help your child have fun and feel good. We hope the following resources will be helpful. As always, please talk to any member of your child’s health-care team if you need more support or help.

Drop-In Session for Parents

BC Childhood Cancer Parents Association (BCCCPA) is offering a monthly drop-in group for all oncology parents.
Contact: Suzanne Dunbar, Parent/Patient Advocate
Phone: 604-875-2345 ext 6477

Siblings Coping Together

A group program for siblings of children treated in the Oncology Program.
Goals: Educational, Social, Supportive.
Contact: Dr. Joanna Chung, Psychology
Phone: 604-875-3003

Oncology Teen Group 

Monthly evening group                                                         Contact: Kristina Jackson, Child Life Specialist                                   Phone: 604-875-2345 ext 7000

Wigs for Kids BC
Organization that aims to improve the quality of life for kids dealing with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses and to provide a free wig for every BC child who needs one. Talk to your social worker for information.

Camp Goodtimes
Operated by the Canadian Cancer Society, this is a camp for children aged 6 -17 who have a history of cancer.  This week-long camp has many fun activities: swimming, arts and crafts, sports, music and much more. Going through camp with other children, getting the caring and support from experienced camp counselors, and just having fun can help children discover their own strength and help them just be children.  Doctors and nurses from the oncology program are part of the camp. Contact the Canadian Cancer Society or see your social worker, nurse or child life specialist for more information.

Children’s Wish Foundation of Canada | Make a Wish Canada
Do special things for children with cancer.  These non-profit organizations are dedicated to fulfilling a favorite wish of children aged 3-17 years.  Ask your social worker or nurse for more details.

Starlight Children’s Foundation of Canada
Provides entertainment; education and family activities that help children cope with a serious illness.  Starlight has a lot of outpatient, hospital-based and web activities that support children and families — from diagnosis through the entire course of medical treatment. 


Children who have had treatment for cancer may find it challenging to go back to school. A child may have side effects that teachers should know about. They may look different and may have lower energy. Having a brain tumour can affect your child’s learning. 

The most important part of sending your child back to school is to plan ahead. This will help make the return to school more successful and supportive for your child, your family and the school.

 There are resources to help plan for your child’s return to and ongoing support at school. Your nurse clinician in the outpatient clinic can give you information that can help going back to school easier. 

School Support

Guidance for school personnel, parents

Taking a Closer Look (PDF)
Reintegrating Students with Brain Injury Back to School in BC

Teaching Students with Acquired Brain Injury (PDF)
A Resource Guide for Schools

Ministry of Children and Family 
Children and Youth with Special Needs

BC Brain Injury Association   
Improving the quality of life for all Canadians affected by acquired brain injury and promoting its prevention.


Adolescent survivors of cancer can have many feelings when they finish high school.  Finishing high school has been a big challenge for your child, and he/she has likely worked hard to get there.  But, life after high school and worry about what this life might look like can be confusing and concerning.

Vocational Support might be a useful resource for your child.  Vocational counselors work with people to help them find jobs that fit well with their strengths and challenges.  They can help your child prepare for applying for jobs and interviews.  To find out more, ask your social worker.

GF Strong Rehabilitation Centre
Has a vocational rehabilitation program for young adults. The program helps them work on barriers that people with disabilities may face.  This program aims to prepare people for work by helping with job skills and preparation.  To find out more, ask your neuro-oncology nurse clinician.

West Coast Group (WCG)
Helps people with disabilities in British Columbia develop skills and independence and helps them learn how to be part of the workplace.

Open Door Group
Supports employers to hire persons with physical disabilities and other barriers to employment.



Post Treatment

When you find out your child has a cancer, it may be hard to know what resources are helpful. As you go through the next few days, weeks and months, this will become clearer. You may be looking for information on the tumour types, what the diagnosis means and about the different treatments. You might also be looking for support from other parents or professionals.

Health information online can be helpful, but may bring up more questions. Be sure to talk with your health care professional about what you find. There is a lot information to take in. If you are feeling overwhelmed, take a break. Try to look at only the information you need right now. You can always come back to get more information later.

Children who have had treatment for cancer may find it challenging to go back to school. A child may have side effects that teachers should know about. They may look different and may have lower energy. Having a brain tumour can affect your child’s learning. 

The most important part of sending your child back to school is to plan ahead. This will help make the return to school more successful and supportive for your child, your family and the school.

 There are resources to help plan for your child’s return to and ongoing support at school. Your nurse clinician in the outpatient clinic can give you information that can help going back to school easier. 

School Support

Guidance for school personnel, parents

Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation 

They have two types of scholarships for Childhood Cancer Survivors. 

Balding for Dollars 
Bursary and Education Program provides bursaries which support the advancement of knowledge, skills and education for survivors of childhood cancer or blood disorders who are (or were) involved in the BC Children's Hospital oncology, hematology and bone marrow transplant program.


‎Over 75% of children with cancer are now cured of their disease. Along with excellent survival rates, achieving optimal quality of life is important. Studies have shown that at least 65% of adult survivors of childhood cancer develop late health effects from their disease and/or treatment. Close follow-up of patients post treatment for potential problems allows cancer survivors to enjoy full and active lives.

Childhood Cancer Survivors: A Practical Guide to Your Future (3rd Edition, 2012)  By Kathy Ruccione, Nancy Keen and Wendy Hobbie. 

(Transitioning Responsibility to Adult Care) is a province-wide, multifaceted Transition  Initiative to support  comprehensive, continuous, accessible, sustainable and developmentally-appropriate care to youth and young adults (ages 12-24 years) with chronic health conditions and/or disabilities (CHC/Ds) as they plan, prepare and transfer from pediatric to adult health care services.

Cancer Survivor Link
Your link to care after cancer

Pediatric Oncology Resource Center
Resources and information for parents of children with cancer . . . by parents of children with cancer.

Childhood Cancer Canada Foundation
The country's leading Foundation dedicated entirely to the fight against childhood cancer.

National Children’s Cancer Society
Beyond the Cure is a survivorship program of The National Children’s Cancer Society.

Live Strong Foundation
We look at the experiences of the cancer community, find problems and develop solutions. Then we roll them out to help more people in more situations. 

I’m too young for this foundation
A non-profit organization that empowers young adults affected by cancer through innovative and award-winning programs and services.

People against Childhood Cancer
Advocacy community on a mission to raise awareness of childhood cancer

Rebounders Canada:  Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer
We are a Canadian non-profit organization that offers support and networking opportunities to adults who have survived childhood cancer.

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