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Cancer Factsheet (for Schools)

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
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What Teachers Should Know

Cancer can sap a child's strength, damage organs and bones, and weaken the body's defenses against other illnesses.

The most common childhood cancers are leukemia, lymphoma, and brain cancer. As kids enter the teen years, bone cancer (osteosarcoma) is more common. Different types of cancer have different symptoms, treatments, and cure rates. Kids and teens with cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy to prevent or control the spread of the disease.

Cancer symptoms can include:

  • tiredness
  • swelling or lumps
  • headaches
  • blurred vision
  • problems with walking or balance
  • unexplained fever or illness
  • unusual bleeding or bruising
  • lasting pain
  • weight loss

Students with some types of cancer may be at risk for long-term learning problems related to treatment. These problems can affect:

  • memory, attention span, and concentration
  • social skills
  • problem solving
  • handwriting, spelling, and vocabulary
  • reading and math
  • planning and organizational skills

Students with cancer may:

  • tire easily and need frequent rest periods during the school day
  • go to the nurse for medicine or if not feeling well
  • need extra time to get to classrooms
  • have long absences due to hospital stays, doctor visits, and treatments
  • need to be seated toward the front of the class, or nearest to a bathroom
  • need special adaptive equipment or assistive devices for the classroom, or duplicate textbooks to keep at home
  • need extra time or assistance with homework and classroom assignments, or modifications to test requirements (extra time, or oral instead of written exams)
  • feel overwhelmed or anxious regarding their illness
  • feel self-conscious about their appearance, especially if they've lost their hair due to chemotherapy
  • need an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 education plan upon returning to school after treatments

What Teachers Can Do

Coping with cancer and cancer treatments can be very challenging for kids and teens. Students with cancer need the support of their parents, school counselors, and teachers to help ease their return to school after treatments.

If your student is out of school for  long time, you can help by emailing assignments, facilitating tutoring, and giving extra time for your student to do assignments and tests. When students with cancer return to school, provide a welcoming atmosphere and allow time for them to return to a normal schedule.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2020