Childhood Cancer Overview : Common Types, Diagnosis and Treatments

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Cancer is not common in children, most cancers develop in adults, and is most common in older adults. According to the studies, about 1 in 285 children will develop cancer before the age of 20 while about 1 out of every three adults will develop cancer during his or her lifetime.

What is childhood cancer?

In children, cancer can occur anywhere in the body, including the blood and lymph node system, brain and spinal cord, kidneys, and other organs and tissues. Cancer starts when healthy cells mutate and grow out of control. These cells then form a mass called a tumour which can be benign or cancerous. A cancerous tumour is malignant which means it can grow and spread to other parts of the body. A benign tumour can grow but will not spread to the other parts of the body.

Risks and causes of cancer in children?

Childhood cancer causes are not known, and the risk factor associated with childhood cancer is not well understood. This is because the group of cancer is very rare and there are so many types of it.

However, some factors can increase the risk of cancer in childhood such as:

  • Medical conditions such as Down syndrome
  • Problems with development in the womb
  • Genetics
  • Exposure to infections
  • Exposure to radiation
  • Previous cancer treatments

What are the Types of Childhood Cancer?

Childhood cancer is termed as a range of cancer types and noncancerous tumours found in children. It is also called pediatric cancer. The types of cancers that occur most often in children are different from those in adults.

The most common cancers in children are:

Leukaemia: It is the cancer of the bone marrow and blood which is the most common childhood cancer. They account for about 30% of all cancers in children. The most common type of leukaemia cancer in children is acute lymphocytic leukaemia and acute myelogenous leukaemia. It can cause bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, bleeding, fever, and weight loss.

Brain and spinal cord tumours: It is the second most common cancers in children and accounts for about 26% of childhood cancers.

They are six major types of brain tumour:
  • Glial tumours
  • Mixed glial, neuronal tumours
  • Neural tumours
  • Embryonal tumours
  • Ependymoblastoma
  • Pineal tumours

Neuroblastoma: It is a tumour of immature nerve cells found in developing embryo or fetus. It accounts for 6% of childhood cancers and develops in infants and young children. It is rarely found in children older than 10. The tumour usually starts in the abdomen where it is noticed as swelling.

Wilms tumour: It is also called nephroblastoma which starts in one or very rarely in both kidneys. It is found in children of about 3 to 4 years old and it not very common in children older than age 6. It has symptoms like fever, pain, nausea, and swelling or lump in the belly. It accounts for about 5% of child cancers.

Lymphomas: It begins in immune system cells called lymphocytes, and they most often start in lymph nodes and other lymph tissues. It shows symptoms such as weight loss, fever, sweats, tiredness, and lumps under the skin in the neck, armpit, or groin.

There are two types of lymphoma:
  • Hodgkin lymphoma: It accounts for about 3% of childhood cancers and is more common in early adulthood and late adulthood. It is very rare in children younger than five years of age.
  • Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: It accounts for about 5% of childhood cancers and is more common in younger children but is rare in children younger than 3.

Rhabdomyosarcoma: It starts in cells that normally develop into skeletal muscles. It can start in nearly any place in the body, including the head and neck, groin, belly, pelvis or in an arm or leg.

Retinoblastoma: It is the cancer of the eye which accounts for about 2% of childhood cancers. It mostly occurs in children around the age of 2, but it is also found in children older than 6.

Bone cancers: It is cancer which starts in bones, and it occurs most often in older children and teens, but they can develop at any age. There are two types of bone cancer, osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.

How to Diagnose Cancers in Children?

Many childhood cancers have higher rates of survival when they are diagnosed in the early stages of cancer. It is recommended that children should have regular medical check-ups and that parents must pay close attention to the development of unusual signs or chronic symptoms.

Discuss your child’s symptoms with your pediatrician so that accordingly he or she can suggest screening tests or biopsy which involves removing some cells within the tumour for examination.

What are Childhood Cancer Treatments?

Pediatric oncology focuses on the care of children with cancer, and it is important to know that there are effective treatments for many childhood cancers.

The type of treatment depends on the type of cancer and its severity. Common treatments for childhood cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplantation.

Surgery: In the surgery, the tumour is removed either cancerous or non-cancerous.

Chemotherapy: It is the treatment in which drugs are sued to destroy cancerous cells, usually by ending the cancer cells ability to grow and divide.

Radiation Therapy: In this high energy X-rays or photons are used to destroy cancer cells.

Immunotherapy: It is also called biologic therapy which uses materials made either by the body or in a lab to improve, target, or restore immune system function.

Stem cell transplantation: It is a medical procedure in which bone marrow that contains cancer is replaced by hematopoietic stem cells that develop into the healthy bone marrow.

When a child has cancer, then every member of the family needs support. Parents should be honest and calm with their children. Talk to your kid as he or she depends on you for helpful, accurate, and truthful information. Comfort your child in every way you can.

Cytecare has a multidisciplinary team of clinicians which is especially guided by national as well as global protocols. Cytecare provides highly specialized, modern diagnostic services, treatment, and care for cancer. Cytecare has gained deep insights into the emotional challenges, that cancer patients and their families have to overcome.

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