Childhood cancer can be treated

By Dr. Ramandeep Singh Arora in Cancer Care / Oncology

Oct 19 , 2015 | 2 min read

The types of cancer affecting children are quite different from the cancers that affect teenagers and young adults. Childhood cancers have become a menace. However, a lot of progress has been made in treating childhood cancers in the recent decades

Every year 50,000 (approx) children in India are diagnosed with cancer. Common cancers in children include blood cancer (leukaemia), lymphatic cancer (lymphomas) and brain tumours. In most cases these cancers in children do not have an underlying cause. If a child develops cancer, it is important to know that it is unlikely there is anything the parents or the child could have done to prevent it.

Today, in Europe and North America, nearly 80 per cent of children with cancer get cured, although this varies with the type of cancer. In India, although the rate of cure for childhood cancer is not that high, it is constantly improving. Some centres in India have a curing rate close to that of Europe and North America.

Cancer in children can be hard to recognise initially as the symptoms can be similar to more common childhood illnesses or injuries. However, if the symptoms mentioned below persist, then a doctor should be contacted. These symptoms include:

  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • An ongoing pain in one area of the body including bones, joints and back
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Change or deterioration in walk, balance or speech
  • Sudden eye or vision changes including white spot in the eye, new squint, blindness, bulging eyeball, etc
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss

Parents of children with cancer can improve the chances of treatment by seeking medical help early, when the child is unwell and cancer is suspected. The healthcare team can assist by being aware of symptoms of childhood cancer and doing an urgent referral to the appropriate treatment centre when cancer is suspected.

Once diagnosis is confirmed, the treating team has a duty to provide detailed and repeated counselling to the parents. Treatment can be offered for most childhood cancers but despite getting the best one some children cannot be cured. Regardless of that, the treating medical team should try and make sure that all children are comfortable and free of pain. The treatment of cancer in children is often long (months to years) and tough. Some of it is in the hospital while a lot of it can be in the outpatient department.

The treatment is in the form of medicines (chemotherapy), surgery and strong X-rays (radiotherapy) or a combination of these three and would depend on the type and stage of cancer. As the treatment is quite strong, it has many side-effects. Some of these include frequent infections, sore mouth, loss of hair (which is usually temporary), need for transfusion of blood products and others. The treating team can help the child through some of these side-effects.

It is important for parents to understand that these side-effects are part of the treatment, which ultimately will cure the child.

Parents also need to recognise that cure is only possible after completion of the entire treatment.