Childhood Cancers are rare, but one cannot ignore it, as they are one of the causes of death in children. Symptoms are different from those related to adult cancers. There is always a delay in diagnosis. If symptoms are pointing towards childhood malignancies, better to refer to pediatric cancer centers. Here they can manage and provide help to the children and their families. The best result depends on the early referral by the first doctor who feels that it is cancer. Childhood cancers are for children younger than 15 years of age. After accidents, cancer is the second leading cause of death in children between the ages of 1 and 14.
IDENTIFYING CHILDHOOD CANCERS:
- The only way is to take a biopsy of the area where there is cancer.
- For the biopsy, a small tissue is taken for testing in the laboratory.
- If a biopsy is not possible, the doctor suggests other tests to diagnose the diseases.
- Tests are also done to see if the disease has spread to other parts of the body ( metastasis ).
- This helps the doctor to plan the treatment.
The doctor suggests the tests keeping in mind
a) The type of cancer suspected.
b) The child’s signs and symptoms.
c) Child’s general health and age.
d) The results of the earlier tests conducted.
Test that are Necessary to Diagnose Childhood Cancer are:
- BLOOD TESTS: This helps to know the different types of cells in the child’s blood. If certain cells are high or low will help to know the types of cancer.
- BIOPSY: Especially for brain cancer, only a biopsy helps to diagnose it. For other cancers, other tests help. The type of biopsy depends on the location of the tumour.
- BONE MARROW ASPIRATION AND BIOPSY: Both these tests are done to examine the bone marrow—the fatty tissue found inside the larger bones. The the samples are studied.
- Many more tests are done like, lumbar puncture, ultrasound, compound tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, position imaging tomography and scans or radioisotope.
Risk Factors and Causes of Childhood Cancers:
Different cancers have different risk factors:
- LIFESTYLE: In children lifestyle may influence after many years, like being overweight, no proper exercise, eating habits and so on.
- ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS: Exposure to radiation has been the cause for many types of childhood cancers. Sometimes being passive smokers if parents were chain smokers.
- CHANGES IN GENES: Certain changes in the DNA inside the cells can change them to become cancer cells. Children can inherit DNA changes from the parent that can increase the risk of certain types of cancer.
- DEVELOPMENT IN THE WOMB: Some cancers in children develop when they are in mother’s womb itself. Sometimes cells do not develop in the womb and remain immature and when the child is 3 or 4 years if they don’t mature may grow out of control and develop into cancerous tumor.
- EXPOSURE TO INFECTIONS: In rare cases, infections can cause cancers.
- EXPOSURE TO RADIATION AND CHEMOTHERAPY: Children who have undergone radiotherapy or chemotherapy for cancer, have a greater risk of developing another type of cancer, it can also take a number of years.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS:
Possible signs of cancer in children:
- An unusual lump or swelling in the abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits.
- Loss of energy
- Easy bruising or bleeding.
- Pain in one area of the body.
- Limping, behaviour changes like crying, screaming, sleeping a lot and slow growth.
- Continuous fever or illness.
- Changes in the eyes or vision.
- Paleness in the skin, feeling tired.
- Infections in the ear, throat or chest.
- Constipation, diarrhoea.
Common Cancers in Children:
- Leukemia—the deadliest pediatric cancer.
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Wilms tumor
- Lymphoma ( Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin )
- Bone cancer
Treatments of Childhood Cancers:
Earlier childhood cancers were treated only through surgery. Now advanced treatments include:
HEMATOPOETIC STEM CELL TRANSPLANTATION
Childhood Cancer Curable:
70% of childhood cancers are curable with modern therapy, though costly. But still the curable chances can vary with the type of cancer and other factors.
Diet for Childhood Cancer Patients:
When a child has cancer diet is very important to stay strong. Most of the children might fuss to eat but a few simple tricks may help them to eat sufficiently.
BEFORE TREATMENT: Before the treatment starts plan the nutritious food for the child. Fill the fridge with food that does not need a lot of cooking. Friends and relatives can help to get a few dishes, as the child loves different foods. Nuts, applesauce, yogurt, chopped vegetables, brown rice and whole grains.
DURING TREATMENT: Eat lots of proteins and healthy calories. This keeps the body strong and helps to repair damage from the treatment. Eat—Lean meat, chicken, fish, eggs, nuts, beans, seeds, cheese, milk, yogurt, fruits-citrus and dark green and yellow vegetables, but wash them well. Drink a lot of water and fresh juices that keeps you hydrated. Also have healthy snacks on hand, so that the child can eat whenever hungry.
Remember one thing, as a parent you may want to stuff your child with food thinking it will cure the cancer. There is no diet that can cure cancer. Give the child healthy diet. Limit the sugar, salt, fried, too much of bakery foods.
Awareness and Knowledge of Childhood Cancers:
In India alone 60,000 childhood cancers are diagnosed. Many parents are not aware and lack proper knowledge of childhood cancers. They lack confidence and feel they cannot manage to see their child affected with this dreadful disease. To improve their understanding and competence levels of handling the situation, thorough and regular seminars and talk by the treating doctor and the team is necessary.
In India, with the support of the WHO, there is a program called “Train the Trainers,” this has to be made known and parents can also be a part of it. Parents must be told repeatedly that children with cancer their future is bright, as it is curable at some stages. Awareness programs will help.