In Europe and North America, around 80% of children suffering from cancer get cured. However, in India, the rate of cure for childhood cancer is not high but it is constantly improving.
Cancer in children can be hard to recognize 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 consulted. 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
- 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
Do you know that every year approximately 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer? The most common ones are leukemia (blood cancer), lymphatic cancer (lymphomas) and brain tumors. In most of the cases, these cancers do not have an underlying cause. The types of cancer affecting children are quite different from the cancers that affect teenagers and young adults. If a child develops cancer, it is unlikely that the parents or the child could have done to prevent it.
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.
What is the treatment plan?
The treatment often depends on the type and stage of cancer and is given in the form of medicines (chemotherapy), surgery and strong X-rays (radiotherapy) or a combination of above. As the treatment is quite strong, it has many side-effects like:
- Frequent infections
- Sore mouth
- Loss of hair (which is usually temporary)
- Need for transfusion of blood products and others.
It is imperative for a pediatric oncologist to provide detailed counselling to the parents once the diagnosis is confirmed. Treatment can be offered for most childhood cancers despite that some children cannot be cured. Regardless of that, the treating medical team should ensure that all children are comfortable and free of pain. The treatment is often long and tough and can extend to (months and years). Some of it is in the hospital while a lot of it can be in the outpatient department.
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.