Understanding children's cancers

When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it can be a very distressing time.

Parents and loved ones may experience shock, sadness and confusion. At Peter Mac, we understand how hard this time may be – we are here for you.

Our children’s cancer experts come together, to support you and your child through this time. We will all work together with the aim of getting your child back to a normal childhood. Peter Mac Paediatric Radiation Oncology Service provides care and radiotherapy treatment to children from birth to young adulthood.

Cancer is a disease of the cells. It usually happens when cells start to grow abnormally and out of control. These abnormal cells grow and damage body tissue, organs and can spread to other parts of the body. If abnormal cells grow and multiply, they can form into a lump, also called a tumour. This tumour, called a malignant tumour, can grow and spread into different parts of the body.

Children’s cancers are often very different to adult cancers. These cancers usually occur in different parts of the body than those found in adults. They also look very different under a microscope and respond differently to treatment.

How cancers grow in children is also very different to adults. It is unclear why cancer happens to some and not others. In children, cancer may be the result of a bad cell change in the genes during a normal growth period.

Focusing on you

We treat children from across Australia and work with other paediatric specialist centres such as the Royal Children’s Hospital, the Monash Children’s Cancer Centre and Paediatric Integrated Cancer Service. Placing you at the centre of our work, your specialist will determine where your child’s cancer started (what type of cell) and if it has spread.

Peter Mac experts treat more than 100 children with radiotherapy per year. Treatment is delivered in an outpatient setting with approximately six to 12 children, each year, staying in hospital for the course of their treatment.

As well as state-of-the-art radiation therapy, Peter Mac provides ongoing education and support for paediatric patients, their families and carers throughout treatment.

While in the care of Peter Mac, patients, their families and carers will interact with radiation oncologists, medical staff, nurse Coordinators, radiation therapists, music therapists and social workers.

There are different types of children’s cancers and related diseases and we treat each one differently. Your treatment plan will depend on:

  • the type of cancer or disease (what cell it started in)
  • if it has spread and how far
  • your general health and wellbeing
  • your family’s needs.

Enhancing your care

Our children’s cancer specialists will come together and work with you to assess your child’s condition and plan and deliver the most effective care and treatment.

Your care plan will be custom-made to treat your child’s specific cancer and the needs most important to your family. Together we will discuss and provide the best possible service for your child and your family.


We know how hard cancer and treatment can be on children, their parents and loved ones. Ever member of a families lifestyle will be disrupted and changed. During this time, it is common for families to struggle with ongoing concerns about cancer and therapy. There are many expert groups available to support children and their families through this time, including:

RESOURCES for children, parents and families