By Mandisa Dlamini, HST Communications Intern
Childhood cancer is a leading cause of death of children and adolescents. Cancer is a group of diseases characterised by the uncontrolled growth and division of abnormal cells within the body. Unlike cancer in adults, childhood cancer presents unique challenges due to the developmental and physiological differences between children and adults. There are various types of childhood cancers that affect children, but the most the most common types of cancer diagnosed in children ages 0 to 14 years are leukemias, brain and other central nervous system (CNS) tumours, and lymphomas. The likely course for childhood cancer varies widely depending on factors such as the type of cancer, its stage at diagnosis, the effectiveness of treatment and the child's overall health. Some childhood cancers have high cure rates while others are more challenging to treat.
Causes and Risk Factors
The exact causes of childhood cancer are still largely unknown. Most cancers in children, like those in adults, are thought to develop as a result of mutations in genes that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually cancer. In adults, these gene mutations reflect the cumulative effects of aging and long-term exposure to cancer-causing substances. Genetic changes that are passed from parents to their children known as germline variants can be associated with an increased risk of cancer. Other risk factors contributing to childhood cancer are chronic infections such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus and malaria.
Children and adolescents who have cancer are often treated at a children's cancer center. This is a hospital that specialises in diagnosing and treating patients up to 20 years of age. Children's cancer centers also participate in clinical trials. Treatment for childhood cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer. Common treatment approaches include generic medicines and other forms of treatment, including surgery and radiotherapy. Childhood cancer treatments can have side-effects due to the impact on rapidly dividing normal cells in addition to cancer cells. These side-effects might include nausea, hair loss, fatigue, a weakened immune system and long-term complications affecting growth and development.
Challenges Faced by Young Patients
Childhood cancer is a complex and devastating condition that affects thousands of children worldwide. It has emotional and psychological effects on young patients and their families. Depending on their age, young patients might struggle to fully understand their diagnosis and treatment, leading to confusion and anxiety. Healthcare providers need to use age-appropriate language and methods to explain the situation to children. It also raises concerns to parents wondering what could possible happened to their young one. Families often experience financial strain due to medical expenses and the need to take time off from work. The emotional toll of watching a child battle cancer can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression.
For more info: Children's Oncology Group : NCIinfo@nih.gov
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