Pediatric cancers are cancers that occur in children. As with adult cancers they can occur in various areas of the body and for various reasons, but pediatric cancers are different from cancers in adults in several ways.
First, they usually can’t be associated to lifestyle choices, such as smoking. Second, children’s bodies respond different to cancer than adult bodies do. Their hormones and growth patterns are still developing. Also, pediatric cancers respond different to traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy.
In the United States there are approximately 12,000 cases of pediatric cancer a year. Pediatric cancers make up about 1% of all cancers that are diagnosed. Although the causes are usually unknown, it is believed that pediatric cancers come from DNA mutations that occur as cells are multiplying.
A few of the most common types of pediatric cancer include leukemia, brain cancer, nervous system cancer, and neuroblastoma. Cancer is the second leading cause of death among children, following accidents.
Signs & Symptoms
Sometimes there are no signs or symptoms that a child has cancer, but symptoms can include lumps, swelling in an area, paleness, easy bruising, or unexplained fever or illness. These symptoms can be the result of many ailments so it is important to consult your doctor if you are concerned.
If it is suspected that your child has cancer your doctor will usually start with a physical exam. They will also do blood work, ask about your family history, and assess your child’s overall health. After that they may get a biopsy of the cells or use an imaging device such as an MRI to take a closer look at the tumor. Based on their findings and diagnosis they then develop the best plan of treatment.
Treatment for Pediatric Cancer
Most pediatric cancers are treated with the same treatments that adults receive; however, this is a specialized field of medicine. Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or a combination of these. Children’s bodies in general though respond quite well to chemotherapy and they are better able to handle the treatment. Some adults are not strong enough and suffer many ill side effects due to treatment. Most children will have a team of doctors monitoring them and their treatment.
Unfortunately, even if the treatment works and the cancer is cured, the treatments can sometimes lead to complications later in life. This can include heart and lung issues, slower growth and development, infertility, learning problems, and more cancer.
The prognosis for pediatric cancer is an 80% survival rate after five years. Many patients of course live a lot longer than that. Due to continuing advancements in cancer research and treatment the prognosis has increased 30% since the 1970’s.