Surgery often plays an integral role in treating most childhood cancers. Whether it's removing a tumor, supporting non-surgical treatment such as chemotherapy, or performing reconstructive surgery, the pediatric surgery team at the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital is involved in the comprehensive care that each child receives here.
Cancer can develop virtually anywhere in the body, from the head to the chest and abdomen to the bones. Common or rare, pediatric surgeons and other cancer specialists at Comer Children's have the experience and expertise to address them all.
Surgery's Role in Cancer Treatment
The surgeon's role varies in pediatric cancer care. Sometimes, the surgeons perform surgery and other times they don't — yet still may be involved in your child's care. At Comer Children's, all children benefit from the teamwork of various physicians, as well as other members of the pediatric cancer care team.
Here is a look at some of the common ways that pediatric surgeons may be a part of your child's cancer care:
Just because minimally invasive is newer doesn't always mean it's the best option for every child. Our surgeons are skilled in the full spectrum of surgical options, from minimally invasive to traditional open surgery. We recommend the approach that best meets each child's needs.
The pediatric surgeons at Comer Children's are recognized worldwide as leaders in using minimally invasive surgical techniques to treat a variety of conditions in children, including some cancers. Because it uses much smaller incisions than traditional surgery, minimally invasive methods usually mean less pain, easier recovery, less scarring or disfigurement and more normal growth after surgery. Whenever possible, surgeons here prefer minimally invasive surgery to remove solid tumors located virtually anywhere in the child's body.
If surgery is recommended (minimally invasive or traditional surgery), it often is one component of a multi-dimensional approach to eliminating cancer. For example, surgery to remove a tumor in the kidney may be followed with chemotherapy to destroy remaining cancer cells. Or, our team may use radiation therapy to shrink a tumor in the brain or bones before surgery. It's all part of our collaborative, comprehensive approach to treating childhood cancers.
Comer Children's pediatric neurosurgeons use minimally invasive techniques to reach tumors that may be deep within the brain or within the spine, including tumors that cannot be reached by traditional surgery. Stereotactic imaging and other very detailed imaging technologies reveal the exact location and dimensions of the tumor, so the neurosurgeon can be very precise in removing only cancerous tissue and protecting healthy tissue. We treat the full range of brain-related tumors, including neurofibromatosis, eye tumors and other conditions.
Surgery to remove tumors is the standard treatment for bone cancer (osteosarcoma). At Comer Children's, we use innovative techniques to avoid amputation. More than 20 years ago, this was one of the first hospitals offering less radical limb-salvage methods as an alternative to amputation.
Today, our pediatric orthopaedic surgeons are among the first in the U.S. performing articular-sparing surgery — a refinement of the limb-salvage technique. This newest technique preserves as much of the child's own bone or joint as possible. Cadaver bone and tissue is then fitted to the child's natural bone like puzzle pieces — resulting in a joint or limb that is even stronger and remains more stable as the child grows, and giving kids a better chance to be active after cancer surgery.
Articular-Sparing Surgery for Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer)
UChicago Medicine general and thoracic surgeons may be called in to address bone cancer that has spread to the lung (metastatic lung disease). These skilled surgeons carefully remove affected tissue while preserving the child's lung function.
Leukemia (a bone marrow- and blood-related malignancy) is the most common type of cancer among children. There are several different types of leukemia which, together, account for about one-third of all childhood cancers. Lymphomas are related, but not as common in children. Neither leukemias nor lymphomas have "solid" tumors that can be removed surgically. Nonetheless, pediatric surgeons often participate in the care of children with these conditions by placing central lines (venous access device) that make it more comfortable for kids to get repeated chemotherapy treatments and for doctors to take biopsies.
Dedicated Care Team Supports Each Patient's Recovery
Children's cancer care is truly a team effort at Comer Children's, and pediatric surgeons are just one component of the team. There are many people focused on helping children and families challenged by pediatric cancer. These include:
The surgeons work with many other pediatric physicians at Comer Children's to address childhood cancers. Pediatric medical oncologists, pediatric radiation oncologists and pediatric neuroradiologists also are essential members of the cancer team. Other physicians who may be involved in your child's care include: neurologists specializing in neurofibromatosis or tuberous sclerosis, nephrologists (kidney), hepatologists (liver), pathologists, neuropathologists and many others.
Teamwork makes things work smoothly. Physicians and surgeons involved in cancer care meet formally each week for our Weekly Pediatric Tumor Board to discuss the best options for each child's treatment. These conferences provide a forum for multiple perspectives and broad insights. Nurses and other members of the care team sometimes also participate in these conferences. In addition to the weekly conferences, our team members meet informally on a daily basis to talk about each child's care and progress.
Nurse practitioners are advanced practice nurses who work with each family affected by childhood cancer. The nurse practitioner serves as a central contact person for the family, and is a bridge between the child and family and the many physicians, nurses, technicians and non-medical staff who participate in your child's care. The nurse practitioner also is a good person to go to with questions, for explanations, or when the physicians cannot be reached right away. (Parents and children also can contact their physicians directly, but sometimes it may be easier to reach the nurse practitioner.)
Pediatric nurses work with children who are staying in the hospital, and with those who come back for checkups with the care team.
Rehabilitation specialists, speech therapists, physical therapists and others provide ongoing support as your child recovers and regains function.
Social workers address a wide array of non-medical needs related to your child's care in the hospital and after he or she returns home.
Child life specialists focus on helping children be kids, in spite of their illness or treatment. They use play therapy, workshops with your child's school and other activities that help pediatric patients feel better about themselves, help them understand their illness and procedures, lessen the scariness or loneliness that kids sometimes feel in the hospital and to ease your child's transition back to school.
Radiation technicians, surgical technicians and other allied health professionals assist with many diagnostic tests and treatment procedures.
Why Choose UChicago Medicine for Pediatric Cancer Surgery
Our surgeons are at the forefront in using techniques that offer children the best chance for full recovery, normal growth and high quality of life after cancer treatment.
At Comer Children’s, cancer care is a team effort that involves different types of pediatric surgeons, other pediatric physicians, nurses, social workers and many others. Children with cancer may benefit from the care of pediatric surgeons who specialize in: general pediatric surgery, orthopaedic surgery, neurosurgery, plastic and reconstructive surgery, otolaryngology (ENT), cardiothoracic surgery, ophthalmology and other subspecialties.
We’re always reaching for the highest standards and stretching the boundaries of what we can do to help children overcome cancer and grow into healthy adults. As a team focused on healing children with cancer, our goal is two-fold: to treat the disease and eliminate the cancer and to help the child live as normally as possible during and after treatment. Our treatment recommendations always consider both goals. For example, we’re among the first to offer innovations such as articular-sparing surgery for bone cancer, which can eliminate the cancer while preserving your child’s ability to walk, run and be active as he or she grows.
We're leaders in traditional and minimally invasive surgery for kids.
Sometimes, minimally invasive is not the best surgical solution for a child’s cancer. By considering many factors, our surgeons have the insights to determine when more traditional surgery would be a better option for a child’s needs. Surgeons here are very skilled in both traditional and minimally invasive surgeries.
When it comes to using minimally invasive surgical techniques, Comer Children’s has some of the world’s most experienced and most innovative surgeons. When appropriate, minimally invasive surgery can mean faster recovery with less discomfort, less impact on body image, and an easier return to normal activities after cancer surgery.
Our pediatric cancer team can tackle challenging cases that other centers turn away. When conventional treatments are ineffective, we draw from leading-edge and investigational therapies.
We pledge to do everything we can to make his or her experience at Comer Children’s as pleasant, non-threatening and pain-free as possible. Our hospital offers many of the comforts of home, while also providing the very best medical and surgical treatments available.
You and your child won’t get lost in the crowd. Although we treat many children with cancer here, we’re not too big to provide the personalized attention each child deserves. From diagnosis to treatment and long-term follow-up, we’ll build a relationship with your child and your family.
With a care team that is devoted specifically to pediatric care, we treat children as children. We don’t expect them to behave like little adults. We’re sensitive to issues like physical growth, emotional development, self-esteem, body image, as well as children’s need to focus on fun instead of illness.
When a child is ill, the whole family is affected. The pediatric cancer team at Comer Children’s addresses and even anticipates the family’s needs and concerns.
Kids of All Ages
Childhood cancer can affect children of all ages. Our pediatric surgeons have experience working with babies through older teenagers. Sometimes, surgeons also treat young adults in their 20s who have a type of congenital cancer that typically is considered a "pediatric" cancer, such as neuroblastoma, neurofibromatosis, Ewing's sarcoma or rhabdomyosarcoma.
We never stop looking for better ways to treat childhood cancers and eliminate the long-term effects of treatment. Our team is examining:
- less invasive methods of surgery
- promising anti-cancer drugs
- radiation therapy methods that target the cancer cells precisely without harming healthy tissue
- imaging technologies that enable doctors to view the body's interior in great detail
With our roots in research and our hearts in healing, we’re able to apply the very newest discoveries and insights directly to patient care. We take bold steps before others try a new approach. From clinical trials of the newest therapies, to being the first to perform an innovative surgical procedure, our team is on the forefront of breakthroughs that can help children beat cancer.