Childhood cancer is much rarer than cancer in adults, but like in adults, cancer can affect any part of the body.
According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, around 16,000 children between the ages of birth to 19 are diagnosed with cancer every year. Thankfully, these numbers represent a small percentage of the population, and with advances in medical treatment, survival rates are much higher than in the past.
What is childhood cancer?
Our bodies contain cells that make up our organs and tissues. Each cell has a function designed to keep our bodies functioning correctly. Over our lifetimes, these cells will develop, grow, die, and be replaced by new cells. However, this normal cycle can sometimes be disrupted, and healthy cells can develop abnormally and start making more of these cells, which can damage and attack healthy cells. This leads to tumors, some of which can be cancer.
What are the different types of childhood cancer?
The most common types of childhood cancers are:
- Brain cancer
- Thyroid cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, leukemia is the most common type of childhood cancer. It makes up 28% of the childhood cancers diagnosed in kids under the age of 15.
Leukaemia starts in the bone marrow and spreads into the blood, disrupting the healthy production of red and white blood cells. It often develops quickly in children and lowers their immune system, making it difficult for them to fight off other infections.
What are the symptoms of childhood cancers?
There may be no visible signs of cancer, or your child might have symptoms similar to other childhood illnesses. However, if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms, book an appointment with your doctor for a check-up:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Lumps in the abdomen, neck, chest, or under the armpits
- Excessive bruising or rashes
- Constant tiredness
- Swelling or persistent pain in bones and joints
- Recurring fevers
As mentioned above, these symptoms might be due to some other childhood illnesses. If your child shows any of these symptoms, seek prompt medical attention. In many cases, the earlier the cancer is caught, the higher the success rate of the treatment.
How Is Childhood Cancer Treated
The type of treatment will depend on when the cancer is first detected, where in the body it is located, and whether it has spread to other parts of the body.
Your oncologist and health care team will put together a treatment plan to tackle the cancer and also protect your child’s immune system as they go through the treatment. Each treatment plan will be personalized for your child.
Some of the treatment options include:
Chemotherapy uses special drugs that kill cancer cells so they cannot grow more. Treatment is usually done over a specific number of cycles and can lead to side effects such as hair loss and nausea, but these side effects typically go away when treatment ends.
Surgery is an option when tumors are present in the body. This treatment will be combined with chemotherapy if there is a large tumor and your doctor thinks that removing the cancer at its current size is dangerous.
Radiotherapy uses targeted bursts of radiation to destroy cancer cells.
Stem cell therapy is a treatment option for kids with leukemia. Healthy stem cells are put into the bloodstream to make new healthy blood, bone marrow, and immune system cells.
A cancer diagnosis is upsetting for all the family, but the good news is that new treatment methods are increasing survival rates. Your doctor and healthcare team will support you through the whole process.