The Cancer Centre for Children is located within The Children's Hospital at Westmead and is a world-class facility with highly qualified and skilled staff. We are the largest comprehensive paediatric Treatment Centre in New South Wales and provide support to several hundred young patients with cancer and their families each year.
Since the centre was established in 1976 we have treated more than 5,000 children and adolescents. Advances in research and clinical care mean that today 80% of children diagnosed with cancer will be cured and become long-term survivors.
Our services are listed below and cover the diagnosis and treatment of all forms of childhood cancer and leukaemia.
Bone marrow/stem cell transplantation service
Bone marrow transplants, also called stem cell transplants, can be used to treat certain types of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma. Soft, spongy bone marrow is found in centre of bones where blood cells are made. It contains the youngest type of blood cells that can transform into white cells, red cells and platelets. These cells are known as hematopoietic stem cells and are found in bone marrow, the bloodstream and umbilical cord blood.
A bone marrow transplant is usually used when normal stem cells in bone marrow have been destroyed by cancer treatments. It replaces cells that are damaged with non-cancerous stem cells that can grow healthy, new cells.
The two major types of bone marrow transplants are allogeneic, using cells from a donor, and autologous, using the patient’s own cells.
Chemotherapy involves using anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy, or stop the growth of, cancer cells. These drugs also affect some normal cells such as those in the lining of the mouth, bone marrow, hair follicles and the digestive system.
The best drug, or combination of drugs, will depend on the type of cancer being treated and the stage it is at. Chemotherapy drugs are given to treat cancers that respond well to chemotherapy, decrease tumour size for easier removal, and to help control cancer to improve a patient’s quality of life.
Children’s Cancer Research Unit
The Cancer Centre Research Unit (CCRU), which conducts laboratory research, is part of the Cancer Centre for Children and aims for the highest standards in diagnosis, research, treatment and support. It is affiliated with The University of Sydney and provides a world-class environment and resources for post-graduate study with its commitment to developing the health professionals of the future to continue the fight against cancer.
Research at the CCRU includes Cancer Gene Therapy (the successful use of immune-based therapies to treat cancer), Focal Adhesion Biology (aiming to understand what causes cancer cells to spread to other sites in the body), Liquid Biopsy Research (the detection of cancer biomolecules in the bloodstream or other easily sampled body fluids), Molecular Oncology (what happens in cancer at a molecular level, including how genes, proteins and other molecules work in the cell) and Tumour Banking and Biospecimens Research (finding better ways to integrate data analysis into the clinic, so that oncologists can better diagnose and treat children with cancer).
Clinical research and trials
Clinical research and clinical trials are in inseparable and embedded part of clinical care when treating children with cancer. Several hundred young cancer patients are treated at the Cancer Centre for Children each year with more than half enrolled in a clinical trial.
How patients benefit
Clinical trials determine the most effective and safest treatment for different types of cancer with the purpose of each trial being to improve survival rates and reduce the side effects and late effects of treatment. Clinical trials are essential to ensuring we provide the latest, world-class treatment. Each child has a tailored treatment protocol based on all the options that are available. This gives them the best possible chance of a full recovery.
Clinical trials are often the only way that children in Australia can access drugs that have been shown to work. They also enable our researchers to test new, more effective ways of treating cancer. The research our doctors conduct continuously informs their care decisions for children with cancer, and our clinical trials ensure constant improvement in the outcomes of our patients.
Led by Dr Luciano Dalla-Pozza, our research focuses on leukaemia, sarcoma, bone marrow transplantation and neuro-oncology. We work closely with the Children's Cancer Research Unit, and also participate in large multi-site international trials and are actively involved in international childhood cancer networks, which are essential to achieve the data sets large enough to study rare childhood cancers.
Types of clinical trials
We currently have 60 clinical trials running, looking at, for example, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, quality of life in cancer patients, brain cancer, cancer of the central nervous system, eye cancer, germ cell cancer, haematological cancer, leukaemia, recurrent relapsed low grade gliomas, sarcomas and Wilm’s tumour.
Patients from other cancer units in Australia and overseas are referred specifically for treatments and clinical trial participation available only in our centre.
Donations fund our clinical trials
We rely almost exclusively on philanthropic donations to fund our clinical trials program which means our ability to improve therapies is completely dependent on the support provided by generous donors. Securing funding for clinical trials is fundamental to the development of new treatments for children with cancer. In Australia, it is very expensive to run clinical trials with the average cost of enroling a patient between $10,000 and $50,000 due to factors including drug costs, involvement of research staff, technology to analyse results and the costs for hospital stays.
Education of patients, families and health professionals
We educate patients and their families throughout the different stages of their cancer treatment.
Assistance and information is given to health professionals, such as GPs and allied health staff, to address the needs of our cancer patients so they have the best possible outcome.
Education of undergraduate students and researchers
Members of the Children's Cancer Research Unit (CCRU) are committed to training upcoming childhood cancer researchers to ensure that successful high-quality research and treatment continues. In recent years Associate Professor Geraldine O'Neill has invested considerable time towards the education of undergraduate students and early career researchers.
Immunotherapy involves having specific drugs that target particular cancer cells. It works by using the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer cells. Substances that naturally occur in the body are used to improve its ability to fight the cancer. It’s only suitable for certain types of cancer, has mild side effects and is usually given with chemotherapy.
Late Effects Clinic
Sometimes there can be long-term consequences of childhood cancer and treatment. Problems that appear or persist after treatment is completed are known as “late effects” with three out of five survivors developing late effects in varying degrees. When children happen to experience late effects it is best to treat them as early as possible, which is why ongoing follow-up care is so important.
Neuro-oncology focuses on cancers affecting the brain and spinal cord.
Oncology Community Outreach Service
The Cancer Centre for Children operates the Oncology Community Outreach Program which offers trained paediatric oncology nurses to facilitate treatments at home or in a community setting.
Oncology Long Term Follow Up Clinic
Five years after patients complete their cancer treatment they are referred to the Oncology Long Term Follow Up Clinic (LTFU). Because late effects may not be present for many years after treatment has ended it is important that the health of cancer survivors is monitored for the rest of their lives.
Clinics are held twice a month in the Oncology Treatment Centre on Level 2. They are staffed by the Doctor in charge of LTFU, Clinical Nurse Consultants (CNC), a Secretary, Psychologist and Social Worker, as well as a team of doctors specialising in paediatric and adult endocrinology, andrology (male fertility), gynaecology/ obstetrics and radiation oncology.
A referral from a GP is needed to attend the clinic and prior to going a letter is sent detailing the location and time of each appointment. The visits take almost a day to complete and comprise an appointment with a psychologist or social worker in the morning, followed by medical investigations which vary depending on each person’s needs but may include a blood test and echocardiogram, followed by a review by members of the long-term team in the afternoon.
As patients get older A transition from paediatric care to the adult health system is planned and coordinated, if needed.
Outpatient treatment centre
The Cancer Centre for Children’s outpatient treatment centre is for children who are visiting the hospital for diagnosis or treatment but are not staying overnight.
The aim of palliative care is to help achieve the best quality of life possible, and to help with any physical and emotional discomfort. Palliative care can help reduce cancer symptoms which may include pain, nausia and fatigue and can also help reduce the side effects from cancer treatments.
Palliative care involves health professionals from a range of disciplines who provide care for a patient's physical, practical, emotional and spiritual needs.
Psychological and support services
Psychologists and other support services assist patients to adjust to problems that arise from cancer.
Radiotherapy, also known as radiation therapy, uses high energy X-rays to destroy cancer cells in specific areas of the body where the radiation is given. By delivering radiation to specific locations doctors can shrink tumours in size and target rapidly growing cancer cells.
Support for bereavement
Targeted therapies use drugs to focus on how cancer cells are different from healthy cells to interupt the growth and spread of cancer. Although it treats cancer with drugs it is different from Chemotherapy as it targets the genes, proteins and tissue that facilitate cancer growth. Targeted therapies are a newer way to treat cancer and are often used with other treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation. They are also a major focus for research with researchers developing drugs that can treat specific changes in cells that occur with cancer.
Ward – Camperdown Ward for inpatients
Camperdown Ward is specifically for oncology patients.
Ward – Variety Ward
Variety Ward is for Oncology patients who require isolation to help them with infection control.