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Chemotherapy for an Infant or Child: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Chemotherapy is the use of medicine to treat cancer. The medicine stops or slows the growth and spread of cancer cells. Your child may get the medicine as pills or liquid to swallow. More commonly, the medicine may be given through a needle into a vein or muscle. For some types of cancer, the medicine is put into the spine or another part of the body. Often several medicines are given at the same time.

Chemotherapy kills cancer cells, but it can also kill normal cells. It often lowers the number of blood cells in the body. This can reduce your child's ability to fight infection and make it harder to stop bleeding. Chemotherapy may also cause side effects, such as nausea, fatigue, or hair loss. Keep in mind that most side effects are temporary. They will go away after your child finishes the treatment. During treatment there are medicines your child can take to help lessen the side effects.

Chemotherapy can help your child fight the cancer. To get the best results, it is very important for your child to get all the treatments or take all the medicine your doctor prescribes.

You can plan ahead to help your child pass the time during treatment sessions. Does your child like to listen to music? If so, bring your child's favourite music on a personal music player along with headphones or earbuds. Listening to music can help your child relax. Or you may want to find something else your child enjoys, such as being read to, or watching a movie, or playing a game.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with his or her medicine. You will get more details on the specific medicines your doctor prescribes. Your child may get medicine for nausea and vomiting if he or she has these side effects.
  • Go to all doctor visits so that the doctor can check your child for problems.
  • Become a partner in your child's care. Make sure you give accurate information about your child's medical history. Take notes when you talk to your child's doctor, so you know what to do at home. Ask your doctor for information about the chemotherapy medicines and their possible side effects.
  • Ask your doctor whether your child should get the normal vaccines against childhood diseases during chemotherapy.
  • Use language your child can understand to explain what is happening. For infants and babies, hold and comfort them often to help them feel safe and loved.
  • Teenagers may be upset about side effects that change their looks, such as losing hair. Be sensitive to your child's worries.
  • Offer your child choices when possible. If your child has lost hair, let him or her decide whether to wear a wig, a hat, or nothing. This can help your child feel more in control.
  • Let your child talk about how he or she feels. Children may feel better if they can meet others in the same situation. Think about letting your child go to a camp for children with cancer.
  • Try to help your child have some fun every day.
  • Talk to your other children about what is happening to their brother or sister. Let them talk about how they are feeling or cry if they feel like they need to.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think your child may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • Your child passes out (loses consciousness).

Call your cancer clinic nurse (during regular clinic hours) or oncologist on-call (after hours) now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has abnormal bleeding.
  • You think your child has an infection.
  • Your child has new or worse pain.
  • Your child has new symptoms, such as a cough, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.

For further information see Children’s Oncology Group Chemotherapy.

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