Just like adults, cancer can occur in children. However, while 1 in 3 adults have a lifetime risk of developing cancer, this rate is very low in children. While leukemia constitutes 30% of childhood cancers, lymphoma cancers are seen in the remaining portion. These cancers are followed by soft tissue cancers, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor and nervous system tumors. How is cancer detected in children? Why does cancer occur in children? We have compiled the answers to such questions and more for you.
WHAT IS CANCER IN CHILDREN?
Cancer in children is caused by the uncontrolled growth and spread of certain cells in the body. Cancers can occur in almost any part of the human body, which has numerous cells. Human cells, which grow and multiply in order to create new cells that the body needs, die due to aging or some damage. These dead cells are replaced by new ones. In some cases, however, this orderly process can be disrupted. As a result of this deterioration, damaged cells that have developed abnormally, multiply instead of growing, forming a benign or malignant tumor. These tumors can also spread to distant sites according to their type.
TYPES OF CANCER IN CHILDREN
Cancer types in children and infants occur in any part of the body, including the central nervous system, the brain and spinal cord, kidneys, blood and lymph node systems, and other tissues and organs. This condition, also known as pediatric cancer, has different types. The most common types of cancer diagnosed in children under the age of 15 are:
- Leukemia (There are 2 types as acute myeloid leukemia and acute lymphoblastic leukemia.)
- Wilms tumor, a kidney tumor
- Retinoblastoma tumor, an eye tumor
- Brain and spinal cord tumors defined as central nervous system tumors
- Hepatocellular carcinoma and hepatoblastoma, which are types of liver tumors
- Ewing sarcoma and osteosarcoma that begin in or near the bone
- Hodgkin lymphoma and non-Hodgkin lymphoma starting in the lymphatic system
- Germ cell tumors
- Rhabdomyosarcoma that begins in striated skeletal muscles
- Neuroblastoma, a tumor of immature nerve cells
WHAT CAUSES CANCER IN CHILDREN?
“What causes cancer in children?” It is one of the most frequently asked questions on the subject. Cancer in children does not have a specific cause. However, there are some risk factors. These are as follows:
- A small percentage of cancer may be due to genetic causes such as prior radiation exposure, Down syndrome and inherited genetic abnormalities.
- It may be caused by structural and environmental factors.
- Congenital anomalies, congenital disorders, immune system problems and gene disorders are among the main causes.
- Nutrition, radiation, viruses and chemistry are also among environmental causes.
CANCER SYMPTOMS IN CHILDREN
Childhood cancers are different from cancers seen in adults. There are no classical symptoms like in cancers seen in adults, these symptoms reveal different cases according to the type, course and spread of the disease. However, the symptoms seen in children can mimic other childhood diseases. In addition, while adults have screening tests for early diagnosis, this is not the case for childhood cancers. That's why it's important to be very careful about the following symptoms.
- Frequent fever
- Having rashes and bruises on the skin
- Weakness and pallor
- Blood in the stool or urine
- Bone pain
- Nose and gum bleeding
- Vision problems
- Personality changes
- Appearance of dark bruises around the eyes
- Cat's eye glare in the light of the pupils
- Experiencing walking problems and imbalances
- Vomiting and headache in the morning
- Decreased motor development, weight loss, cessation of sucking in infants
- Difficulty in stool and urination, changes in bowel movements
- Cough causing shortness of breath
- Painless swelling in the lymph nodes in the groin, neck and armpits
It is a condition that should be emphasized that the symptoms last longer than a few weeks and that these symptoms cannot be explained by simple tests such as blood count, urine and stool tests and do not improve with frequent use of antipyretic, antibiotics and pain relievers. Pediatric oncology-hematology specialists should be consulted to investigate this situation in detail.
CANCER DIAGNOSIS IN CHILDREN
There are many laboratory and radiological examination methods used for the diagnosis of cancer in children. However, the most important way of knowing most types of cancer is biopsy. In cases where a biopsy is not possible, the doctor may refer to other tests to assist in the diagnosis. These tests are:
- Computed tomography (CT) scan
- Bone marrow aspiration and biopsy
- Blood tests
- Lumbar puncture
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- Positron emission tomography (PET) or PET-CT scan
CANCER TREATMENT IN CHILDREN
The treatment method is highly dependent on the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, its side effects and the general health status of the child. However, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgical methods are generally used in the treatment of cancer in children. These methods are:
Surgery: With the surgical method, the tumor and the surrounding tissues are removed, whether cancerous or non-cancerous. The purpose of this procedure is to remove these tissues and not leave tumors in healthy tissue. After the surgical procedure, microscopic tumor cells may be left behind, and in this case, radiation, chemotherapy and other treatment methods are used.
Drug Therapy: Drug therapy, which is a systematic treatment, is usually performed by a pediatric oncologist.
Chemotherapy: Pediatric chemotherapy is generally applied to prevent cancer cells from growing, dividing and spreading. This practice is usually given over a period of time. The side effects of this treatment depend on the dose of the drug used and the condition of the child. However, it usually manifests as fatigue, hair loss, vomiting, infection, diarrhea and decreased appetite. These side effects disappear on their own when the treatment is completed.
Immunotherapy: Also called biological therapy, this treatment method is designed to support the body's natural defence mechanism to fight cancer.
Radiation Therapy (Radiotherapy): In this treatment method, high-energy photons or x-rays are used to destroy cancer cells, but it is a very rare treatment method for children.
COMMON MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT CANCER IN CHILDREN
Childhood cancers are contagious and can spread. Contrary to this belief, cancer is not a contagious condition. In other words, it does not spread from child to other children. The only reason for using masks in children with cancer is that the child with cancer has a weak immune system and is prone to infections.
Childhood cancers are hereditary. Most cancers are not caused by a specific known cause. On the contrary, almost all of these cancers develop spontaneously.
Childhood cancers are fatal. Most cancers that develop in children are curable. Particularly as a result of the developments in technology, satisfactory results can be obtained with a properly planned treatment process.
What should be done to protect the child from cancer?
In terms of cancer and all diseases, the immune system of the child should be strengthened from birth and precautions should be taken accordingly. Adequate and balanced nutrition, childhood vaccinations and hygiene are among these measures.
What should mothers and fathers whose children have cancer do?
You should not hide the situation from the child, on the contrary, you should talk to the child in an appropriate language. Especially for the physical changes to be experienced during the treatment process, you should support your child psychologically and consult a specialist in this field. If the treatment will cause the child's hair to fall out, you should let the child choose their own scarf, cap, hat and wig. In fact, since your child will lose weight in this process, applying to a dietitian can be supportive in terms of getting the nutrients your child needs to stay strong in this process. Cancer and its treatment is a challenging process for both your child and you. It is important to seek psychological help in order to make this process supportive for yourself as well.
How do you know if your child has leukemia?
Leukemia in children often causes the following symptoms:
- Intense cold feeling
- Feeling of weakness and tiredness
- Pale skin color
- Experiencing dizziness
- Having swelling in the body
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach ache
- Frequent infections
- Concentration difficulty
- Balance problems
- Skin rashes
- Blurring of vision
- Vomiting and seizures
- Joint and bone pains
- Bleeding and bruising
At what age does leukemia occur?
Leukemia is most commonly seen in children under the age of 15, but can also occur in adults under the age of 55.
What is the pediatric oncology department?
The Department of Pediatric Hematology/Oncology is a branch of science that works with a multidisciplinary approach in order to diagnose and treat childhood cancer and blood diseases.