Unlike many cancers that strike adults, those in younger patients are not usually tied to environmental factors like smoking or toxic exposure. And while these cancers are sometimes linked to inherited genetic conditions or previous treatments, more often than not the source is a random genetic mutation — unpredictable and unpreventable, but not untreatable.
At MedStar Georgetown Cancer Institute, we know that children and teens are not just smaller adults — that’s why we provide comprehensive care for the unique medical and emotional needs of our younger patients, directed by experienced specialists who appreciate the critical differences between pediatric and adult cancer.
We’ve made great strides against pediatric cancer and have the expertise and resources to successfully treat every kind, from the rarest to the most common. We provide a safe, warm, welcoming environment that supports the entire family — we know that when your child is sick, the whole family hurts.
Caring for Children and Teens
Our specialized program is run out of MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and treats patients from birth to age 25, in either an inpatient or outpatient setting. We welcome the chance to provide an initial diagnosis or a second opinion, and offer:
Many of our pediatric oncologists trained at the National Institutes of Health. They focus on caring for children and teens, and each member further specializes in different and complementary areas of cancer care. When needed, additional network specialists come to our program, so you don’t have additional travel. That gives us expertise to care for any cancer, from the rarest to the most common. Cancers more frequently seen in children include:
- Blood cancer (leukemia and lymphoma)
- Sarcomas (bone cancers like osteosarcoma and Ewing tumors and soft tissue sarcomas like rhabdomyosarcoma)
- Brain and central nervous system tumors
- Wilms tumor
We offer a full range of effective, research-backed treatments, from surgery and chemotherapy to newer targeted therapies. Our treatments are tailored to your child’s particular condition and needs and also include:
- Proton Therapy, is an advanced form of radiation therapy, which targets only the tumor cells and avoids the surrounding healthy tissues.
- CyberKnife, a precisely targeted external radiation system that we were among the first to adopt and are now deeply experienced using
- Clinical Trials and Research: We’re a full member of the Children’s Oncology Group, a National Cancer Institute-backed group that runs pediatric cancer clinical trials. We also have a close relationship with the National Institutes of Health and can refer patients to age-appropriate trials run by adult cancer programs in our network. That all means access to promising new therapies not always available elsewhere.
Each family gets their own care team, meaning you see familiar faces and get to know your providers. The team is drawn from:
- Pediatric oncologists
- Pediatric nurse practitioners
- Pediatric oncology nurses
- Social workers
- Child life specialists
- Art therapists
On the whole, pediatric cancers tend to respond better to treatment than adult cancers do, and children and teens often tolerate the regimens better. But their bodies are still growing, and even the best treatments come with side effects. We create careful plans to provide just enough therapy intensity for full treatment, working to minimize side effects, monitor long-term harm and give follow-up care when needed.
Safe and Comfortable Settings
We’ve made a special effort to make sure both our outpatient and inpatient care takes place in warm, welcoming and safe environments designed to make your child as comfortable as possible:
- Outpatient: Our outpatient clinic is designed to look like a playroom and is covered in art made by our patients. An art therapist and a social worker are there to greet you when you arrive and provide support. Children getting chemotherapy can go to a special area to play dress-up before their sessions, and we provide TV and videos or soothing music during procedures. Teens are engaged with computers and iPads.
- Inpatient: Our fully renovated inpatient unit is designed to look like a small community with individual homes — a layout created after we asked our patients for their ideas. All rooms are private, with a bedside TV system from GetWellNetwork so patients can watch movies, surf the Internet play games and get health information. Three of our rooms have special HEPA filters, protecting stem cell transplant patients from infection. We also invite in special guests, such as authors who read from their books.
Successful pediatric cancer care rests on more than just medical treatment. Our program offers a range of supportive services, from major components to little but appreciated touches:
- Palliative Care: Our palliative care not only relieves pain and helps your child tolerate treatments better, but can also provide emotional and spiritual support to the whole family. Their goal is the best quality of life possible.
- School Program: Unfortunately, many of our patients need to spend weeks at our inpatient unit or at home — sometimes both. Our certified teacher works with students ages 3 to 17, helping them keep up with schoolwork and maintain some sense of normalcy. The teacher helps them transition back to school when it’s time, and can also help coordinate schoolwork for those who have to temporarily stay home.
- Fertility Consultations: Some programs shy away from discussing future fertility, but we know it’s a concern for the parents of many patients. We can discuss potential side effects of treatment and ways to safeguard fertility, such as sperm or egg banking.
- No Pain Policy: Our no pain policy is based on the belief that younger patients should not get traumatized by treatment. We provide numbing cream for procedures like IV line insertion and blood draws.
- ICEE Machine: It may sound odd at first, but slushy ICEE drinks are often the only refreshment patients undergoing chemotherapy can tolerate, helping to maintain hydration and relieve side effects: stomach discomfort, mouth sores and tissue swelling (mucositis) that hinders swallowing.
- Cooking with Cancer: Good nutrition takes on extra importance for patients with cancer, helping them tolerate therapy and recover better. But treatment can cause appetites and food preferences to change. Chemotherapy, in particular, weakens the immune system (putting some bacterially risky foods off-limit) and causes changes to the mouth’s lining and GI and mouth sores. Our unique program provides nutritional assessments, family cooking demos and menu consultations, putting patients and parents at ease.
- Cancer Survivorship: Through an initiative nicknamed our “Late Effects Program,” we provide a lengthy assessment two years after successful treatment, then briefer follow-ups each year for life. We check for normal growth and signs of cancer or treatment side effects.
Pediatric Oncology: Patient and Family Support
We believe in providing care and support for the whole family — not just helping our patients cope with the challenges of illness and hospitalization but addressing the emotional and social needs of parents and siblings. We help assess your situation at arrival to create a tailored plan, then adjust it as care proceeds. Some of our programs help parents get the support, nutrition and rest they need to take care of their children.
Child life specialists are one of our key resources, with special training in help younger patients and their families. Our specialists:
- Provide comfort whenever your child needs an IV line inserted or a blood sample drawn
- Help convince your child to eat and drink when they are resistant
- Help the family with the stress and uncertainty of illness and hospitalization, and help your child feel safe and comfortable
- Explain medical tools and upcoming procedures to your child through play-acting
- Provide diversions to help your child focus on more enjoyable things
- Explain the diagnostic and treatment process to your family or your child’s friends and classmates
- Meet with siblings to address their special concerns
- Organize individual and group recreational activities for patients