Cancer

Purpose of this policy

To ensure schools support students with cancer.

Prerequisite policy

See: Health Care Needs.

Policy

Schools must implement strategies to assist students with cancer and ensure that they have a Student Health Support Plan.

See: Health Support Planning Forms within Related policies below.

Definition

Cancer occurs when cells in the body:

  • multiply in an uncontrolled way
  • form a mass that affects the normal function of the surrounding tissues
  • can also affect systems of the body such as the blood or endocrine (hormonal) systems.

Cancer in children and adolescents:

  • is not usually linked to lifestyle or environmental factors
  • requires different treatment to adults as its extent and nature is different
  • tends to be more responsive to chemotherapy and children often tolerate treatments better
  • has a very high survival rate with over 80% cured depending on the:
    • type of cancer
    • extent of the disease when first diagnosed
    • patient’s age.

See: Cancer in the School Community Cancer Council Victoria

Impact at school

This table describes how cancer and its treatment can impact students.

Note: Cancer may have many effects, and each instance is unique. The following is not an exhaustive list of impacts.

Area impacted Students being treated for cancer may experience

Attendance

  • absence/prolonged absence from school

Learning and wellbeing

difficulty with:

  • reduced attention and concentration (mental fatigue)
  • memory (short-term and long-term)
  • problem-solving
  • planning
  • organisation
  • slowed thinking and understanding
  • visual perceptual deficits
  • new learning or specific problems with certain types of learning, such as mathematics.

Susceptibility to infectious diseases

  • weakened immunity to infectious diseases. Exposure to diseases such as measles or chickenpox can be very serious and even life-threatening.

Where there may be a possibility of exposure to an infectious disease, schools may need to take additional precautions for students with cancer and should liaise with the student's family. See Infectious Diseases

Physical abilities

  • physical fatigue, limited strength and endurance
  • less willingness to participate in physical activities owing to changes in body image caused by changes such as:
    • hair loss
    • limb loss from amputation
    • weight changes
  • co-ordination difficulties, including hand and limb tremors which can impact on:
    • recording of school work
    • participating in self-care and other activities in school
  • balance problems which may result in safety issues
  • a change in their reproductive ability which may:
    • impact on self-perceptions
    • cause distress when learning about sexuality.

Social skills

  • changes in social connections with their peers. It is not always possible to predict how each student or their family will react to different events.

Impact on siblings of students with cancer

Healthy siblings in families affected by childhood cancer may also have unmet needs. They may feel great sadness, fear and anxiety, as well as more complicated emotions such as guilt, jealousy, resentment and anger and may need particular support from the school at this time

Strategies

Schools should ensure that medical advice is received from the student’s health practitioner ideally by completing the Department’s General Medical Advice Form – Cancer

This should inform a Student Health Support Plan which outlines how the school will support the student's health care needs and is completed in consultation with the student's parents/carers.

The table below describes how schools can support students with cancer.

​Appoint a school liaison person

​A school liaison person, who may be the student's classroom teacher or someone else in the school the student has a positive relationship with:

  • acts as the key contact in the school who can liaise with the student's family about their changing needs and communicate with other staff in the school on their behalf
  • can also communicate with the hospital school and other education staff.

​Establish support networks

A positive and available support network:

  • is important to maintain student's social connections with their peers and the school community
  • should be developed understanding the needs of the student, family and school
  • should adapt as the needs of the student and others change.

​Returning to school

​Getting back into a school routine is important. It maintains continuity in the student's education and their friendships, and it reinforces the idea that life will go on and they have a future.

A Return to School Plan can be developed in consultation with the student and their support network to assist in the reintegration of a student after a prolonged absence.

See: Attendance improvement plan and return to school plan

Communicating with parents

Regularly communicate with the student’s parents about the student’s successes, development, changes and any health and education concerns. 

Camp Quality puppets

These puppets can be used with primary students to:

  • develop empathy and understanding
  • deal with physical and emotional changes.

See: Other resources below

​Activities including camps

With good planning students should be encouraged to participate in sporting and physical activities including camps.  The condition may limit the extent to which the student is able to participate.

The school should receive any extra medical information by the parents completing the Department's Confidential Medical Information for School Council Approved School Excursions form. 

Related policies

Other resources

For more information see: