September is childhood cancer awareness month
Childhood Cancers are cancers that occur between birth and 15 years of age. Although these cancers are rare they may vary from adult cancers based upon the way they grow, how they spread throughout the body and how they present for medical attention. They also vary in treatment compared to many of the adult cancers.
The most common cancers seen in children are blood cancers of which leukemia most frequently occurs. Blood cancers account for approximately 30 per cent of all childhood cancers worldwide (affecting more than 5000 children). This is also the most common type of cancer observed in the Pediatric population of St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Although cancer rates have declined over the past decade due to earlier detection and improved therapies, cancer still remains a leading cause of death, second only to accidents.
Common types of cancer include:
1. Leukemia (begins in blood – for example bone marrow)
2. Lymphoma (begins in the cells/lymph nodes of the immune system)
3. Neuroblastoma (begins in nerve cells)
4. Retinoblastoma (begins in tissue of the retina located in the eye)
5. Wilms Tumour – This is a type of kidney tumor (begins in tissues of the kidneys)
6. Others – These include brain, bone and soft tissue cancers
Many of the signs and symptoms of cancer can differ from one child to another and each presentation can be unique. These cancers are often confused with other childhood diseases that present similarly. Some of these symptoms and signs that you can observe in your child include:
∑ Increased swelling in joints, extremities such as arms or legs, back and abdomen (belly)
∑ Any lumps or bumps observed in chest, armpits, groin, neck, head or pelvis
∑ Any bleeding to gums, easy bruising to skin
∑ Suspicious rash to skin
∑ Non-specific symptoms – unexplained, prolonged fevers, weight loss, decreased appetite, weakness, fatigue
The causes of most of these childhood cancers are not known. However approximately five per cent of childhood cancers are caused by an inherited mutation (abnormal gene) while others are caused by spontaneous mutations in genes that lead to uncontrolled cell growth and eventually cancer.
Treatment of these cancers can vary, and it is determined mostly by the type of cancer. These treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunotherapy and transplantation procedures such as stem cell therapy.
Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can improve outcomes for both children and their families. Any delay in diagnosis or treatment can lead to the progression of cancer – which is sometimes rapid – causing it to spread to other parts of the body. This is known as metastasis, which eventually results in the death of a child.
by Dr. Kevette Harry, Medical Officer
Pediatric Department , MILTON CATO MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
Dr. La’Ron Browne, Medical Officer
Pediatric Department, MILTON CATO MEMORIAL HOSPITAL