Childhood Cancer

Childhood Brain and Spinal Cord Tumors

Chapter 11: Chemotherapy

The first wealth is health.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

THE WORD CHEMOTHERAPY IS DERIVED from a combination of the words “chemical” and “therapy” (meaning treatment). During chemotherapy, drugs are used individually or in combination to destroy or disrupt the growth of tumor cells without permanently damaging normal cells.

This chapter explains how chemotherapy drugs work, how they are given, and how dosages for children and teens are determined. It then describes the most common drugs used to destroy brain and spinal cord tumor cells, as well as medications used to prevent nausea and treat pain. Numerous stories are included that show the range of responses to different chemotherapy drugs. A brief discussion of complementary and alternative treatments is also included.

Reading about chemotherapy’s potential side effects can be disturbing. However, by learning what to expect from the various drugs, you may be able to recognize symptoms early and report them to the doctor so swift action can be taken to make your child more comfortable. On rare occasions, side effects may be life-threatening and some can persist throughout life. However, most are merely unpleasant and subside soon after treatment ends.

Not all children respond to these drugs in the same way. Some children develop serious side effects from certain drugs, but others are unaffected. In most cases, it is impossible to predict how an individual child will tolerate chemotherapy.