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The Rare Tumors Program at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center provides care for uncommon cancerous conditions. Among the cancers we treat are germ cell tumors of the brain, melanoma, and nasopharyngeal, adrenocortical, and thyroid carcinomas.

Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s is an integrated pediatric hematology and oncology partnership between Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital. We offer, in one specialized program, the full spectrum of services that are needed for diagnosis, treatment, and ongoing care of even the rarest and hard-to-treat conditions.

The Rare Tumors Program features treatment teams led by pediatric oncologists with special expertise in treating many rare forms of cancer. They are supported by radiation oncologists, surgeons, and pathologists, as well as specialists in neurology, endocrinology, dermatology, ophthalmology, and other medical specialties.

Children in our program benefit from the work of our laboratory and clinical researchers, who focus on understanding the scientific causes of rare cancers, which results in new treatment options. Children with progressive or recurrent rare cancers may be eligible for experimental therapies and clinical trials.

How we approach rare tumors

Our pediatric oncologists may order a number of different tests to determine the type and location of the tumor. In addition to a physical examination and medical history, diagnostic procedures for these tumors may include imaging tests, including MRI, PET, and/or CT scan, biopsy, blood tests, and lumbar puncture (spinal tap), as well as specialized tests based on the type of cancer suspected.

Treatments for rare tumors are based on the type of tumor, the child’s age, overall health, and medical history, location and size of the tumor, the extent of disease, and the doctor’s expectations for how the tumor will behave.

Surgery is used to treat many rare forms of cancer. Following surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be used to kill off any remaining cancer cells. This may include the use of new biologic agents that target specific mutations in these tumors. Depending on the type of cancer, other treatments may also be used, including high-dose chemotherapy with stem cell transplant, chemoembolization, cryotherapy, thermotherapy, laser therapy, or shunts that drain fluid buildup from the brain.

Our rare tumors specialists

Patients who come to us for treatment have access to the broadest set of pediatric and oncologic expertise available. The breadth of our expertise allows us to assemble a team of experts to meet the specific needs of our individual patients.

At the core of the treatment team are pediatric oncologists with expertise in treating many rare forms of cancer. Many of our specialists are also active researchers, so our patients have access to the most advanced treatments available.

From there, we build a team that is best suited to carry out the patient’s treatment plan, including radiation oncologists, surgeons, pathologists, radiologists, and nurses, as well as specialists in neurology, endocrinology, dermatology, ophthalmology, and hepatology (liver specialists). We round out the team with experts who help the child prepare for life during and after treatment, including psychiatrists and psychologists, child life specialists, social workers, nutritionists, and school specialists.

Rare tumors research and clinical trials

Children who are treated through our Rare Tumors Program benefit from the work of our basic and clinical researchers, who are striving to understand the scientific causes of rare cancers, which results in the introduction of new treatment options. We are a world leader in “translational” research, bringing laboratory advances to the bedside and into doctors’ offices as quickly as possible. In addition, we are the New England Phase I Center of the Children’s Oncology Group. Children with progressive or recurrent tumors may be eligible for a number of experimental therapies through this group or through one of our independent clinical trials. Search our current trials.