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Cancer in Children

When it comes to childhood cancers, brain, and spinal cord tumors rank second with about 26% of all cases.

A cancer diagnosis is upsetting at any age, but even more so when the patient is just starting his/her life. It’s natural to have many questions, such as, who should treat my child? Will my child get well? What does all of this mean for our family? Not all questions have answers, but the information and knowledge shared in this blog will provide a starting point for understanding the basics of childhood cancer.

Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents. The likelihood of surviving a diagnosis of childhood cancer depends on the country in which the child lives: in high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer are cured, but in many LMICs, less than 30% are cured.

The reasons for lower survival rates in LMICs include lack of good facilities for diagnosing, an inability to obtain an accurate diagnosis, inaccessible therapy, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity or infection (side effects), and avoidable relapse. Improving access to childhood cancer care, including essential medicines and technologies, is highly cost-effective, and feasible and can improve survival in all settings.  Now, let’s study about few of the types of cancers affecting especially children: –

Contents

1. Leukaemia

Leukaemia is the 10th most common cancer. It is a blood cancer characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal cells in the blood. This uncontrolled growth takes place in your bone marrow, where most of your body’s blood is made. Leukaemia cells are usually immature (still developing) white blood cells. The origin of the term leukemia comes from the Greek words for “white” (leukosis) and “blood” (haima). Unlike other cancers, leukemia doesn’t generally form a mass (tumor) that shows up in imaging tests, such as X-rays or CT scans.

There are many types of leukemia. Some are more common in children, while others are more common in adults. Treatment depends on the type of leukemia and other factors are also involved.

Symptoms

Leukaemia symptoms vary, depending on the type of leukemia. Common leukemia signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Persistent fatigue, weakness
  • Frequent or severe infections
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Swollen lymph nodes enlarged liver or spleen.
  • Easy bleeding or bruising
  • Recurrent nosebleeds
  • Tiny red spots in your skin (petechiae)
  • Excessive sweating, especially at night Bone pain or tenderness

 2. Spinal cord and brain tumors

When it comes to childhood cancers, brain, and spinal cord tumors rank second with about 26% of all cases. There are numerous varieties of brain and spinal cord tumors, and each has a unique course of treatment and prognosis.

Most pediatric brain tumors develop in the brain’s lower regions, such as the cerebellum or brain stem. They can result in symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, blurred or double vision, seizures, difficulty walking or handling objects, and others.

Symptoms

  • Headache in the morning or one that disappears after throwing up.
  • Speech, hearing, and vision issues.
  • Decrease in appetite.
  • Vomiting and nausea regularly.
  • Personality, mood, concentration, or behavior changes.
  • Walking difficulties and loss of balance.
  • Weakness

3. Neuroblastoma

Cancerous tumors include neuroblastoma. Babies and young children’s nerve tissue is where it develops. A developing baby’s young nerve cells in the womb are where cancer cells thrive. Neuroblasts are the name for these cells. It is the most prevalent type of cancer in infants under 1 year old. It is generally uncommon when a child is older than 10. The signs of neuroblastoma can be different depending on where the disease began, how much the cancer has grown, and if it has spread to other parts of the body. The first symptoms are often vague and may include:

  • Irritability
  • Pain
  • Constipation or diarrhoea
  • A swollen belly
  • Being very tired
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Dark circles around the eyes
  • Weakness
  • Fever

4. The spinal cords’ nerve cells

Along the nerve fibers, ganglia, or clusters of nerve cells in the adrenal glands, there are nerve cells. The nerve fibers in the abdomen or the adrenal glands are where neuroblastoma typically begins. The nerve fibers close to the spine in the chest, neck, or lower belly (pelvis) are additional common locations for it to grow. Abdominal tumor signs and symptoms can include:

  • Abdomen-related lump
  • Abdomen-related swelling
  • Reduced appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Swollen legs
  • An increase in scrotum size
  • Severe pains

The majority of patients with Wilms tumor, a rare kidney cancer, are children. It is also referred to as nephroblastoma and is the most frequent kidney cancer in kids. Children aged 3 to 4 are most frequently affected by Wilms tumor. After age 5, it becomes much less frequent, but it can still affect older kids and even adults. Most Wilms tumors only affect one kidney. However, it can occasionally affect both kidneys at once.

The prognosis for children with Wilms tumor has significantly improved over time thanks to advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of this condition. The majority of children with Wilms tumor have a good prognosis with treatment.

Wilms tumor symptoms can be very diverse. Some kids don’t appear to be displaying any symptoms. However, some people with Wilms tumors experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • A palpable mass in the lower abdomen.
  • Bloating in the lower abdomen.
  • Pain in the lower abdomen.

Additional signs might include:

  • Urine is accompanied by blood in it.
  • Anemia is a low level of red blood cells.
  • Elevated blood pressure.
  1. Lymphomas

Lymphocytes, which are immune system cells, are where lymphomas begin. The lymph nodes or other lymph tissues, such as the tonsils or thymus, are where these cancers most frequently develop. Other organs and the bone marrow may also be affected. Weight loss, fever, sweats, fatigue, and lumps (swollen lymph nodes) under the skin in the neck, armpit, or groin can all be symptoms of cancer, depending on where it first appears.

The two main types of lymphoma are Hodgkin lymphoma also known as Hodgkin disease, and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Both types can be found in both kids and adults.

About 3% of childhood cancers are Hodgkin lymphomas. However, early adulthood (typically in those in their 20s) and late adulthood (after age 55) are the times when it occurs more frequently. It is uncommon for children under the age of five to develop Hodgkin lymphoma. The best forms of treatment for this type of cancer in children and adults are very similar.

In children, non-Hodgkin lymphoma accounts for 5% of all cancers. Compared to Hodgkin lymphoma, it is more likely to affect young children, but it is still uncommon in those under the age of three. Non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children can take on different forms from those in adults. These cancers frequently spread quickly and demand intensive therapy, but they also frequently respond to therapy more favorably than most.

  • Frequent signs include unexplained fever.
  • Swelling of one or more lymph nodes, often in the armpits or neck.
  • Bloated belly.
  • Abnormal perspiration, particularly at night.
  • Decrease in appetite.
  • Easily bleeding or bruised.
  • Weight Loss

6. Rhabdomyosarcoma

A cancerous tumor called rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS or “Rhabdo”) grows in the body’s soft tissues, typically the muscles. Almost any part of the body, including the head, neck, vagina, bladder, arms, and legs, can be affected. Rhabdomyosarcoma cells frequently grow quickly and can metastasize (spread to different parts of the body).

The most prevalent soft tissue cancer in children is rhabdomyosarcoma (rab-doe-myo-sar-KO-muh). Although it can occur in children of any age, the majority of cases occur in those between the ages of 2 and 6 and 15 and 19. Boys are more likely to experience symptoms than girls.

Chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation are frequently used to treat RMS. Most children recover completely with prompt diagnosis and treatment.

RMS symptoms vary depending on the tumor’s size and location. On occasion, a child’s body may develop a lump and some swelling, frequently without any pain. Sometimes the tumor is so far inside the body that it exhibits little to no symptoms.

Headaches, bulging eyes, or droopy eyelids can all be symptoms of rhabdomyosarcoma. RMS affects urination (peeing) and bowel movements in the urinary system and can result in blood in the urine or feces. A child may experience tingling or weakness in that area if a muscle tumor is pressing on a nerve.

  1. Retinoblastoma

The eye’s retinoblastoma is a cancer. The retina, a layer of nerve cells lining the back of the eye, is where it starts. It occurs when the retina’s nerve cells change, increasing in size and population. A tumor eventually develops from the cells. Normally, the cells spread within and around the eye. They can also invade the spine and the brain, among other bodily organs.

Although it can occasionally affect adults, retinoblastoma typically affects young children. The gene that causes retinoblastoma in children may have been inherited from their parents. These kids typically develop retinoblastoma earlier in life and in both eyes.

What signs and symptoms indicate retinoblastoma?

  • You might notice that the normally dark pupil appears white when light is shone into the eye (such as with flash photography).

Other retinoblastoma symptoms include the following:

  • Eyes that look as though they are moving around.
  • Swelling of the eyes and eye redness

Make an appointment with your child’s doctor right away if you notice anything strange about your child’s eyes. Tell your child’s doctor if there is a family history of retinoblastoma. Inquire with the doctor about your child’s regular eye exams to check for retinoblastoma. To identify retinoblastoma, an ophthalmologist will perform a thorough physical examination. To determine if retinoblastoma is affecting other areas near the eye, the doctor will perform imaging tests. Your child’s ophthalmologist might suggest that you seek the help of other professionals, like a genetic counselor or a cancer physician.

  1. Bone tumors

Primary bone cancers, which are cancers that begin in the bones, most frequently affect older children and teens, though they can strike at any age. About 3% of childhood cancers are caused by them.

Children typically develop one of two primary bone cancer types:

Teenagers are the age group where osteosarcoma is most prevalent, and it typically appears where the bone is undergoing rapid growth, such as at the ends of the leg or arm bones. It frequently results in bone pain that worsens at night or after exerting oneself. Additionally, it may result in swelling in the vicinity of the bone.

An uncommon form of bone cancer is Ewing sarcoma. Young teens are most frequently affected by it. The pelvic (hip) bones, the chest wall (including the ribs and shoulder blades), and the middle of the leg bones are where it most frequently begins. Symptoms can include swelling and bone pain.

Symptoms

Bone cancer symptoms and signs include:

  • Affected area tenderness and swelling
  • Fractured bone due to weakened bone
  • Fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Pains in bone

Anything that raises a person’s risk of getting cancer is a risk factor. Although risk factors frequently affect how cancer develops, the majority do not cause cancer. While some people who have several risk factors never get cancer, others who have no known risk factors do.

Most childhood cancers are unknown to medical professionals and researchers. A small proportion of cases of cancer can be traced to inherited genetic abnormalities like Down syndrome, other inherited genetic conditions or prior radiation exposure. Childhood cancer is unlikely to be brought on by environmental factors, such as exposure to infectious diseases and toxic substances.

The Children’s Oncology Group (COG) oversees a sizable childhood cancer registry to assist doctors in learning more about risk factors. Patients and families who register with the network may be contacted in the future to gather data for studies on the genetic and environmental factors that may be related to the emergence of childhood cancers. This topic is still being researched.

Cancer in children

Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents.

Prevention

There is still no known way to prevent childhood cancer because specific causes have not been identified yet.

  • Eat well and encourage your kids to eat a balanced diet.
  • Exercise outdoors but use sunblock to avoid the sun.
  • Do not consume tobacco in any way, including smoking.
  • Avoid using alcohol and other drugs.
  • Maintain a current vaccination schedule.
  • Adopt responsible sexual behavior.

Children’s cancer centers are the best places to meet the unique needs of children with cancer and their families. A group of specialists who are knowledgeable about the distinctions between adult and childhood cancers as well as the special requirements of children with cancer and their families oversees the treatment of childhood cancer in these facilities. This group typically consists of:

  • Pediatric oncologists are medical professionals with a focus on using medications to treat cancer in children.
  • Pediatric surgeons are medical professionals with a focus on operating on children.
  • Oncologists who specialize in using radiation to treat cancer are known as radiation oncologists.
  • Adolescent oncology nurses: nurses with a focus on treating cancer in children.
  • Nurse practitioners (NPs) and physician assistants (PAs) are specially trained and licensed nurses and other health professionals.

The team may also consist of a variety of other medical specialists. The entire family can receive support and care from psychologists, social workers, child life specialists, nutritionists, physical therapists, and educators at children’s cancer centers. Make sure, you and your child are cancer-free with the help of regular check-ups.