Cancer Special Needs Factsheet

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:

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

Students with some types of cancer may be at risk for developing long-term learning difficulties related to:

  • 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 throughout the school day
  • go to the nurse for medication or if not feeling well
  • need additional time to get to classrooms
  • have prolonged absences due to hospital stays, doctor visits, and treatments
  • need preferential seating toward the front of the class, or nearest to a bathroom
  • require special adaptive equipment or assistive devices for the classroom, or duplicate textbooks to keep at home
  • need additional 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
  • require 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 extremely challenging for kids and teens. Students with cancer need the support of their parents, school counselors, and teachers to help ease the transition back to school after treatments.

If your student is out of school for an extended period, you can help by emailing assignments, facilitating tutoring, and providing additional time for your student to complete assignments and tests. When students with cancer return to school, make sure to provide a welcoming atmosphere and allow time for them to transition back to a normal schedule.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2015