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Cancer in Children: All You Need To Know
Cancer in children is one of the leading causes of death in children and adolescents. In India alone, 75,000 children are diagnosed with cancer each year. Over 20 % of childhood cancer cases in the world belong to India. The most common kinds of childhood cancer include leukaemia, brain cancers, lymphomas and other solid tumours like Neuroblastoma and Wilms tumours. Why do children get afflicted with childhood cancer? Cancer usually begins with genetic changes in single cells that grow into a mass or travels to other parts of the body and invade them. If undiagnosed or untreated, cancer can even be fatal. While in adult cancers we may have environmental factors or destructive lifestyles to blame for cancer, the cause of most childhood cancers cannot be explained. Research and the data available to us today say that around 10% of all childhood cancer happens due to underlying genetic factors. There is a need for further research to clearly identify the factors that contribute to the development of childhood cancer. Symptoms of cancer in children When the symptoms of cancer happen in children, they may not be able to recognize, report it or take action against it. It is therefore the responsibility of the parents, guardians and caretakers to be vigilant about any symptoms the children may exhibit. The following are the most common symptoms of childhood cancers: Unexplained recurrent fever Continued weight loss Headaches with or without vomiting usually in the mornings Swelling or pain in the bones or joints Lump or mass in the abdomen, armpits, chest, pelvis or neck White areas in the pupil or change in vision Sudden bruising or bleeding Paleness or prolonged tiredness Consult your physician in case any of the above symptoms are observed and confirmed. Since, all these symptoms need not necessarily confirm the presence of cancer. Types of cancers found in children Childhood cancers usually involve tissues like the lymphatic, hematopoietic, muscles, bones and central nervous system. The most common cancers are- Hematologic Cancer (Blood cancers) Blood cancers like leukaemia and lymphomas are very common in children. In childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia or Acute Myeloid Leukemia, the blood marrow creates an excessive amount of immature white cells. It may also affect red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. Lymphomas affect the cells of the lymphatic system and can be either Hodgkin lymphoma or Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Solid Tumours Brain Tumours Brain and spinal cancers are some of the most common childhood cancers and happen when abnormal cells are created in the brain or the tissues of the spinal cord. Neuroblastoma Most common extra cranial solid tumours in children present as lumps in the abdomen, chest or elsewhere. Wilms’ Tumour This is seen in children between 2 and 4 years of age and arises in the kidneys. Rhabdomyosarcoma These are cancers of muscles. Retinoblastoma This is a rare kind of cancer that affects the retina of the eyes. This is commonly seen in children who are younger than the age of 5 Bone cancer Bone cancer is rare among children. Among the different kinds of bone cancers, osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma are seen commonly in children and adolescents. To know more about childhood cancers and their symptoms and treatment, talk to our experts at Rainbow Children’s Hospital. Diagnosis To diagnose Blood Cancers, or Acute leukemia, we need a Complete Blood Picture, wherein we look at the peripheral smear for any abnormal cells. Bone Marrow Aspiration and further tests on Bone Marrow Aspirate will confirm problems related to Acute Leukemia. Whereas, to confirm diagnosis of solid tumours we need to take biopsy of tumour tissues and subject it to histopathological examination as well as IHC markers test. In fact, genetic testing on the tissue also helps in confirmation of the type of solid tumour. Management Management of Acute Leukemia depends on the type of problem you are dealing with. In Acute Leukemias, be it Acute lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), the most common cancer in children, or whether it is Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML), the second most common hematological malignancies in children, both the types require treatment with Chemotherapy. Along with Chemotherapy, other nutritional and supplemental support and care is also necessary. On the other hand, for solid tumours, the modalities of treatment are Surgery, Chemotherapy, and Radiotherapy. Most of the Childhood Cancers are treatable.
Pediatric Hematologist & Oncologist
Rainbow Children's Hospital, Banjara Hills