In general, cancer can be divided into two categories: liquid tumors (leukemias and lymphomas) and solid tumors. Different cancer types require different treatments.
Liquid Tumors (leukemias and lymphomas)
Leukemia is a cancer of the blood and affects the bone marrow where blood cells are made. Leukemias are the most common childhood cancer. Leukemias are treated with chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
The most common form of childhood leukemia is acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Children with ALL receive most of their treatment in the outpatient clinic. This means that once the diagnosis is made and treatment has started, most children don’t stay overnight in the hospital unless they are sick from the treatments.
The total length of treatment for ALL is variable, but usually lasts 2-3 ½ years. Because of risk of testicular relapse, boys typically need treatment longer than girls.
Acute Myelocytic Leukemia (AML)
Acute myeloid leukemia (AML), is a less common form of leukemia in children. Children with AML receive most of their treatment in the hospital. The length of treatment varies, but is not as long as it is for ALL.
AML and other rare forms of leukemia are treated with high-dose chemotherapy, bone marrow transplant (BMT), or both, which require treatment in the hospital.
Lymphoma is a cancer of the cells of the immune system and lymph nodes. Lymphomas are treated with chemotherapy and sometimes radiation therapy.
Children with lymphomas may receive their treatments either in the clinic or in the hospital, based on the type of therapy. Treatment for lymphoma is not as long as treatment for ALL.
Solid tumors are lumps or masses that grow within body tissue. Not all lumps or tumors are cancer. Some tumors are benign, which means “not cancerous.” A cancerous tumor can spread to other parts of the body, but benign tumors do not spread. Benign tumors are generally not life-threatening but can cause serious problems if they are too big or if they are found in a vital place such as the throat, lung, heart, or brain.
Some tumors are malignant, which means “cancerous.” There are many types of malignant tumors that can grow, invade other tissues, and spread to other parts of the body.
Solid tumors are often treated with chemotherapy and surgery. Sometimes radiation therapy is used as well. Solid tumors that are aggressive or are likely to return may be treated with high dose chemotherapy and bone marrow transplantation (BMT).
The exact treatment, including whether treatment will be in the hospital or clinic and how long the treatment will be, depends on the location, type, and extent of the disease.