A cancer diagnosis is upsetting at any age, but especially so when the patient is a child. 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 we are trying here to provide a starting point for understanding the basics of childhood cancer. Although cancer death rates for this age group have declined by 65 percent from 1970 to 2016, cancer remains the leading cause of death from disease among children. The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children ages 0 to 18 years are leukaemia, brain and other central nervous systems (CNS) tumours, and lymphomas.
Children’s cancers are not always treated like adult cancers. Paediatric oncology is a medical speciality focused on the care of children with cancer. It’s important to know that this expertise exists and that there are effective treatments for many childhood cancers. The alarming signs are an unusual lump or swelling, unexplained paleness and loss of energy, easy bruising or bleeding, an ongoing pain in one area of the body, limping, unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away, frequent headache, often with vomiting, sudden eye or vision changes, sudden unexplained weight loss.
There are many types of cancer treatment. The types of treatment that a child with cancer receives will depend on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Common treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplant.
Before any new treatment can be made widely available to patients, it must be studied in clinical trials (research studies) and found to be safe and effective in treating disease. Clinical trials for children and adolescents with cancer are generally designed to compare potentially better therapy with therapy that is currently accepted as standard. Most of the progress made in identifying curative therapies for childhood cancers has been achieved through clinical trials.
Children face unique issues during their treatment for cancer, after the completion of treatment, and as survivors of cancer. For example, they may receive more intense treatments, cancer and its treatments have different effects on growing bodies than adult bodies, and they may respond differently to drugs that control symptoms in adults.
The impact of molecular biology, human genetics, immunology and chemistry on pediatric haematology and oncology, has been extraordinary. It is now commonplace to anticipate that the entire genome of every child with cancer or a blood disorder will be determined going forward based on the expectation that a full genetic profile will lead to personalized and more effective treatment.
An overall approach is very crucial and involves all sub-specialities like paediatric oncologists/haematologists, paediatric surgical specialists, radiation oncologists, BMT specialists’ rehabilitation specialists, paediatric nurse specialists, social workers, nutritionists and psychologists.