Resources and information for parents of children with cancer . . . by parents of children with cancer.

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Medical procedures, chemotherapy, and radiation

As cancer kid parents, we become well versed in a number of medical procedures and become familiar with the names of many chemotherapy drugs. The intention of this section is to provide an overview of these procedures and drugs, detailed information in some cases, and links to sources of more information when appropriate.

Note: This section has health/medical information. It was not written by a health care professional. The medical references are: the web sites listed in the text below at the individual topics, the author's personal experience as well as that of members of the online ALL discussion list, a booklet that Children's Hosptial sent home with the author's family, and the book:

Medical Procedures

A good reference: "Preparing Your Child for Medical Procedures" on the website.


Spinal is a short cut term for spinal tap, and is also called LP (for lumbar puncture) or intrathecal (IT). Spinals are performed both to check the CNS fluid for cancer cells and to treat the CNS with chemotherapy.

In a spinal, the patient has a needle inserted into the spinal fluid, in the middle of the back just below the waist. A spinal can be painful, and the patient must hold very still during the procedure. After the procedure, they must lie flat for 30 minutes (to prevent a headache). Different patients tolerate spinals to different degrees.

Bone marrow aspirations, or BMA

Bone marrow aspirations (and bone marrow biopsies, below) are performed to check for cancer cells in the bone marrow. They are ordered periodically in the treatment of the leukemias. They are also ordered if something unusual is going on with a child's blood counts.

Bone marrow aspirations hurt more than spinals. In a BMA, a small sample of bone marrow is suctioned, usually from the hip, through a needle for examination under a microscope. BMA is removal of liquid marrow, as opposed to BMB which is removal of tissue. See:

Bone marrow biopsy, or BMB

A special needle is used to remove a small amount of tissue - a tiny "bone chip" - from the bone marrow for examination under a microscope. It can be done immediately following a BMA. BMB give a larger volume of sample to test.

Blood Counts

Complete blood counts, or CBCs, are routine during treatment for childhood cancers. Blood counts are ordered to monitor a child's response to treatment and, in the leukemias, to make sure that there are no cancer cells in the peripheral blood. Blood counts are discussed on a separate page:

Chemotherapy Administration Methods

Chemo drugs are administered in several ways: IV, IM, SQ, LP, or PO. IV drugs are usually given via a central line, discussed in a separate section on ports. Don't miss the link at the end of this section on how the doses are calculated from body surface area.

IV, or intravenous

IV means that something is administered directly into a vein. Patients with cancer can require frequent IV treatments, either chemo, transfusions, or antibiotics. Many children have central lines or ports, both to save them from frequent needle sticks and to prevent damage to veins.

IM, or intramuscular

These are shots given with an ordinary syringe directly into the tissue of a muscle (like, straight down into the top of the thigh).

SQ, subcutaneous

These shots are given just under the skin.

LP, IT, or spinals

Shots that are administered into the spinal fluid. Please see the paragraphs on LPs in the medical procedures section.

PO, orally

This is: pills. A good way to remember PO is P stands for "by" and O stands for "mouth". (It's Latin: per os ) Similarly, NPO is when the patient can't have anything by mouth. Nothing to drink or eat, not even a sip! This would be before a procedure such as bone marrow aspiration, when an anesthetic is used.

How to get kids to take oral meds: The parents' views on the subject!!

Drug Doses

Drug doses in protocols are often listed as an amount per BSA, or Body Surface Area. Here is a link to a page that calculates Body Surface Area and descriptive statistics plus medication doses.

Chemotherapy Drugs

The list of chemotherapy drugs used in childhood cancers is long. Usually, your oncologist will give you an information sheet on each drug that is given to your child.

Below are three sections, one that links to pages written by your author on ALL drugs and a second that contains annotated links to external web sites with good chemo drug information. The third section has links to web sites that might have information on new chemo drugs.

Patty's chemo drug pages

I prepared a treatise on the mode of action and possible side effects for each, using my expertise as a biochemist. Granted, I wrote these in the late 1990s. But the information is probably still accurate, although I'll warn the reader that current scientific journal articles might have explored or proven different theories of action. (2017 note)

My chemo drug are on another of my sites – follow the links below.



anthracyclines and dexrazoxane or Zinecard®


6-mercaptopurine and 6-TG

prednisone and dexamethazone - steroids

ara C - cytarabine also see the "Sea to Ara C" essay by Patty


Links to other web sites that have chemo drug information

MedlinePlus is a service of the US National Library of Medicine and NIH. The coverage is similar to the drug sheets given to you by the doctors.

Medscape is presented by WebMD. The drug info is a supplement to doctor's information; a good feature is the easy-to-find adverse drug-drug interactions. You do need to set up an account to access the information, but it is free.

MacmillanCancerSupport is a non-profit UK site for cancer patients. The drug info pages are informative; a good feature is the reference section for each drug.

RxList, gives some information about chemo drugs. The site is noteworthy because through the Pill Identifier you to look up drug from imprint code on a tablet. (If you find a pill and do not know what it is, you can look it up using the drug ID.)

Chemotherapy Drugs and Drugs often Used During Chemotherapy on Good information on managing side effects.

Radiation Therapy

Please see the NIH/NCI site:

Radiation Therapy

General Disclaimer

These pages are intended for informational purposes only and are not intended to render medical advice. The information provided on Ped Onc Resource Center should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you suspect your child has a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

© copyright 1998-2018 by Patty Feist

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