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Childhood Cancer

How do we deal with the child psychologically and therapeutically? What is the cure rate?

The cure rate of cancer has increased especially among children and adolescents thanks to the outstanding medical developments regarding diagnosis and treatment. The future seems promising as scientific research continues in full swing.

In contrast, there is no clear scientific answer that justifies why a child has cancer. Children, as well as adults, get this malignant disease. Parents, doctors, and the staff find it difficult to deal with this age group and to tell the child the truth about his condition, the treatments he will undergo, and the complications he may experience during his journey with the disease.

Hence, special hospitals or departments within hospitals have been established solely for children with cancer and they were equipped in conformity with the requirements of this age group, in addition to providing a team of medical care providers who are able to deal with children with cancer.

Although cancer affects adults and children equally, it differs somewhat in childhood as the cure rate increases if the child gets the necessary medical care. Unlike adults, there is no strong relationship of childhood cancer to environmental factors, smoking, and pollution. It’s usually the result of DNA changes in cells that take place during fetal stages. Rare genetic disorders or the exposure of the child or mother to ionizing radiation during pregnancy are among the causes of childhood cancer.

How does it happen?

Childhood cancer arises from cells that are partly fetal and therefore are more vulnerable, while adult cancer arises from different and very mature tissues and therefore has more mechanisms to resist drugs and medicines.

Cancer in children and adolescents is related to growth and development, meaning more cell division. When the cells divide, some errors that cause cancer can occur, especially within the cells where the tissues develop rapidly.

It should be noted that the immune system is the rapidly developing system in the body and is highly active during childhood and adolescence. On the other hand, the immune system consists mostly of lymph nodes. About half of all cases of childhood cancer are lymphoma or leukemia, in addition to bone cancer in adolescents because bones grow very quickly during puberty.

It may be difficult to identify or discover childhood cancers early because common illnesses and bruises can mask the early symptoms. That’s where parents should look out for unusual symptoms and go immediately to the doctor for examination. Periodic follow-ups with a pediatric specialist should not be neglected.

The most common symptoms of concern especially if they persist for a long time are:

  • Mass or swelling in certain areas of the body.
  • Persistent and unexplained fever 
  • Frequently getting sick for no obvious reason.
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy.
  • Lasting pain in a specific part of the body.
  • Tendency to bruise easily.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Frequent headache, often with vomiting.

The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children from the age of one day to 19 years are leukemia, brain cancer, lymphoma, and solid tumors such as neuroblastoma and nephroblastoma (Wilms Tumor). Early and accurate diagnosis and the necessary treatment have contributed to the survival of many children.

Dealing with the child

The problem that parents face is how to deal with the child and alleviate his pain and suffering. This requires intervention by the medical team in cooperation with the patient’s relatives because cancer affects not only the child’s body but also his state of mind.

The first advice that parents should follow is not to show their grief in front of the child but to be happy and not anxious at all. They should also motivate the child to do activities he likes and not isolate him as much as possible, especially that hospitals designated for children carry out many recreational activities and involve all children as this would have a positive impact on the child’s state of mind and consequently on the success of the medical treatment.

Those hospitals also provide patients with psychological support and assistance and give parents advice on how to deal with the child and how to answer his questions. Also, the presence of people around the patient is of great importance during the treatment journey so that the child does not feel lonely and starts having dark thoughts. It is useful to communicate with moral support groups at this critical time.

All family members, not just the mother and father, should stand together to provide psychological support and assistance to the child so that he does not feel that his disease is affecting his lifestyle or theirs. The family of a child with cancer must stay strong, faithful, and patient in order to continue the journey of fighting the disease. The real suffering is when the child’s hair falls out after undergoing chemotherapy. That’s where the medical team and the parents must inform the child before reaching this stage in order not to be shocked. They must also convince him that it is a temporary stage and it is one of the complications of the treatment that will soon disappear when the disease goes away.

The main reasons why cancer is terrifying are the physical changes that occur during treatment such as hair loss, weight loss, possible scars, and change in a part of the body after surgery. The possibilities are many depending on the type of cancer and its stage. Family members should reduce the child’s fear and ensure that he is living in a family atmosphere while staying in the hospital. Psychologically and morally supporting the patient to overcome his ordeal and accept his new situation is an essential part of the success of the treatment. It is also necessary for the child to know what advanced treatments available today make it possible to recover and return to normal life and that he only has to bear the treatment period. The most important thing is not to deal with the child with compassion or show sadness and concern. Optimism and playing and laughing with the child contribute greatly to improving his state of mind and accepting his new condition. Any opportunity to bring joy and pleasure to the child’s life should be seized.

the most common type of cancer among children

Leukemia is the most common type of cancer among children under fifteen years of age. It is a type of cancer that affects the bone marrow and spreads through the blood to other parts of the body. Early detection contributes greatly to increasing the rates of recovery. Some types of childhood leukemia show some signs and symptoms, but not in all cases.

Leukemia begins in the bone marrow through the formation of cancerous white blood cells (WBCs). Although most leukemia cases affect WBCs, there are some other types that occur as a result of the change of other types of blood cells into cancerous ones. The growth of leukemia cells randomly and the fact that they don’t die naturally like the rest of the normal cells make them accumulate in the bone marrow and crowd out the normal blood cells.

Symptoms of leukemia are caused by problems in the bone marrow. Leukemia causes an imbalance in the formation of WBCs and a shortage of platelets, causing many symptoms and signs which the family may overlook. The most common signs and symptoms include:

Bruises which parents do not notice because children spend a lot of time playing and are subject to falling and having them. However, having bruises easily and perhaps without falling is cause for concern because it is a sign of leukemia.

Anemia that develops when the body does not have enough red blood cells, causing weakness, fatigue, dizziness, and loss of appetite. It is one of the serious indicators of leukemia.

Recurrent nosebleeds for no obvious reason, such as sunstroke or nasal injury, are a symptom that calls for concern because it is an indicator of leukemia. The capillaries in the nose are weaker and tend to burst easily in children with leukemia.

Long-term loss of appetite is evidence that the destroyed cells have accumulated in the stomach and spleen which limits the bowel secretion of digestive juices, leaving the child not feeling hungry.

Frequent infections and diseases because cancer weakens the immunity and slowly destroys WBCs that are very important to detect diseases and factors that cause infections.

Swelling in parts of the child’s body such as the armpits, joints, neck, and collarbone. This is considered an indicator of leukemia because cancerous cells affect the lymph nodes in these areas of the body causing swelling.

Acute stomach pain without having indigestion or digestive problems. This is evidence of leukemia that affects stomach tissues.

Breathing problems because cancerous cells affect the lung cells and destroy them, causing respiratory problems such as difficulty breathing and wheezing in children.

Joint pain due to the accumulation of cancerous cells in the blood around the joints causing inflammation and continuous pain in the knees, elbows, back, etc.

Childhood lymphoma

It is characterized by an abnormal growth of cells that begins in the lymphoid tissues. The lymphatic system is part of the body’s immune system in children and adults. There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s.

Cancerous cells may be found in the bone marrow, lymph nodes, spleen, tonsils, thymus, or any other lymphoid tissues, in addition to the lymph vessels that connect them. After a biopsy, the tissue sample is examined in a lab to determine the type of cancer.

Hodgkin’s lymphoma is most common in early and late adulthood. The most common symptom is painless enlargement of the lymph nodes (a condition known as swollen glands) in the neck, above the collarbone, in the underarm area, or in the groin. When Hodgkin’s lymphoma starts in the lymph nodes in the center of the chest, it can press on the trachea. This causes coughing, shortness of breath, or problems with blood flowing to and from the heart.

Some children have other symptoms including weakness, poor appetite, itching, unexplained fever, night sweats, and weight loss.

Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL) is more likely to occur in children under the age of 15 than Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than 3 years old.

When diagnosing this type of cancer, doctors discover a malignant growth of specific types of lymphocytes. After classifying the disease according to its location and how advanced it is, the treatment is determined.

Chemotherapy is the primary treatment for all types of lymphoma. In some cases, radiation can also be used by directing high-energy rays at the person to kill cancerous cells and prevent them from growing and multiplying.

Brain tumors in children

Brain tumors in children typically are primary tumors – tumors that start in the brain when normal cells have errors (mutations) in their DNA. These mutations allow cells to grow and divide at increased rates and to continue living when healthy cells would die. This results in a mass of abnormal cells, which forms a tumor.

Certain types of brain tumors, such as medulloblastoma or ependymoma, are more common in children. The cause of the tumor is unknown, but a family history of brain tumors or a family history of genetic syndromes may increase the risk of brain tumors in some children, though uncommon. The most prominent types of brain tumors in children are:

  • Embryonal tumors
  • Medulloblastoma
  • Ependymoma
  • Glioma
  • Pineoblastoma
  • Craniopharyngioma
  • Choroid plexus carcinoma

Signs and symptoms of a brain tumor in children vary greatly and depend on the brain tumor type and the age of the child. Some of them may not be easy to detect because they’re similar to symptoms of other conditions. Therefore, the necessary tests must be done and modern methods must be adopted to detect the type and risk ratio of brain cancer.

In general, symptoms of a brain tumor in children include:

  • Severe headache
  • Double vision
  • Feeling of increased pressure in the head
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Swelling of any part of the body without cause
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble walking
  • Inability to write
  • Frequent vomiting and fever for no reason

Treatment depends on a number of factors including the type, size, and location of the brain tumor and whether it is widespread or not, as well as the child’s age and general health. 

Treatment methods are constantly evolving which means that there may be many treatment options at each stage. Treatment for brain tumors in children is different from treatment for adult brain tumors, so it is important to follow up with a pediatric specialist in cancer and neurology.

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