Childhood cancer is rare and awareness regarding this condition is limited especially among the general population. Leukemia or blood cancer is the most common type of cancer in the pediatric age group. The common symptoms include pallor, fatigue, bleeding manifestations, bone pains and fever. Presence of painless swellings in the neck, axilla and groin without evidence of infection may be a sign of lymphoma. They may also present with significant weight loss, persistent cough or excessive sweating at night.
In case of retinoblastoma, we may see a white pupil. Swelling or discoloration around the eyes needs further evaluation and may be indicative of metastases. New onset squint, blurring of vision or vision loss may be seen in brain tumors. The more common symptoms of brain tumor include, severe, persistent headaches which are more in the mornings. This pain is seen to worsen over days and may be relieved after vomiting. Unexplained abdominal swelling or abdominal masses need to be evaluated. Bone tumors may present with limb or bone pains without trauma or infection. In the presence of any of these symptoms, the patient needs to be seen by a pediatrician for evaluation.
Diagnosis of Childhood cancers
Leukemia can be diagnosed by a blood test called peripheral smear or a bone marrow test while lymphomas and solid tumors will need CT scan and biopsies to confirm the diagnosis. Once the cancer is diagnosed, the patient will need further tests to confirm the type of cancer and the stage. Stage refers to the extent of the cancer and is based on how large the tumor is and if it has spread to other sites. Depending on the type of tumor, these staging tests include bone marrow studies, lumbar puncture, CT scan or PET scan. Once the doctors know the stage, they will be able to understand the extent of the cancer and it will also help to decide the best plan of treatment.
Childhood cancers are not always treated like adult cancers. Pediatric oncology is a specialty focused on the care of children with cancer. It is important to know that this expertise exists and that there are effective treatments for many childhood cancers. Cancer and its treatments have different effects on growing bodies than adult bodies and children may respond differently to drugs that control symptoms in adults. The treatment that a child with cancer receives depends on the type of cancer and how advanced it is. Common treatments include, surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy and stem cell transplant.
At Aster Medcity, the treatment plan includes a multi-disciplinary team which includes, pediatric oncologists/hematologists, pediatric surgeons, radiation oncologists, pediatricians, oncology nurses etc. Maintaining the weight and general nutrition of the growing child who is on cancer treatment is very important and nutritionists are an important part of this team. It is also important to provide emotional support to the child and the family during this difficult phase for which psychologists are a big help.
After completing treatment, it is also essential for childhood cancer survivors to receive follow up care to monitor their health. The frequency of follow up visits and the type of tests done, will depend on the type of cancer and the treatments received. This helps in early detection of any potential health problems in these patients. Cancer survivors are also encouraged to maintain healthy lifestyle choices and their growth and nutrition can also be monitored regularly.
Childhood cancer especially when diagnosed at an early stage is curable with proper treatment.