Thu | Dec 13, 2018

Being strong in the face of childhood cancer

Published:Wednesday | October 3, 2018 | 12:00 AMJean Rose/Contributor
Cancer is an uncommon condition in children but one that is very devastating and life-changing.
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This year, the Bustamante Hospital for Children joins with the international community to highlight childhood cancer under the theme 'Be STRONG - Stand Tall, Reach Out, Never Give Up'. It is hoped that by increasing awareness of childhood cancer, we can improve outcomes for our children through early detection, prompt treatment and a team approach.

Cancer is an uncommon condition in children, but one that is very devastating and life-changing. It is a leading cause of death in children and it has a significant impact on the child, family, community and wider society.

Cancer happens when cells (the building blocks of the parts of the body) become abnormal, increasing quickly in number and size, and living in the body longer than they should. This occurs because the cell's DNA (DNA is the information centre that tells the cells how to behave) changes or becomes damaged. So instead of acting like the normal cells, the cancer cells misbehave. They compete with the normal cells for nutrients, outlive the normal cells, and deprive the normal cells of the space that they need to grow and live. These events contribute to the symptoms and signs of cancer.

Children of all ages can be affected, and boys and girls are equally at risk. In most instances, the reason for cancer in a particular child is not known.

However, some children are at higher risk of developing cancers, including:

- Children with a strong family history of cancer.

- Children who have genetic conditions (changes in their DNA) such as Down syndrome.

- Siblings of a child with cancer, especially an identical twin.

 

WHAT ARE THE TYPES OF CANCERS SEEN IN CHILDREN?

 

Every part of the body can be affected by cancer. The most common types of cancers in children are leukaemia (cancer of the white blood cells), brain tumour, kidney tumour and tumour of the lymph nodes (lymphomas). Adolescents are more at risk for getting cancer of the bones, ovaries and testes.

It is extremely important that parents, guardians and the wider public be aware of these warning signs and act quickly to seek care for these children. Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating cancer, as delays can result in further spread of disease, thus reducing the chances of cure or remission (control of disease).

 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF CHILDHOOD CANCER?

 

Symptoms of cancer in children can resemble other common childhood conditions like infections or injuries. However, when these symptoms linger, return or occur with other signs, then children should be taken to a doctor urgently.

Some of the symptoms to look out for include:

- C - Continued, unexplained weight loss.

- H - Headaches, often with vomiting in the early morning or night.

- I - Increased swelling or pain to the bones, joints, back or legs.

- L - Lump or mass to the abdomen, neck or chest.

- D - Development of excessive bleeding, bruising, or rash.

- C - Constant infections.

- A - A whitish colour behind the pupil (dark part of the eye).

- N - Nausea which persists, or vomiting without nausea.

- C - Constant tiredness, or noticeable paleness.

- E - Eye or vision changes, such as a "cast eye", which are sudden or persistent.

- R - Recurrent fevers of unknown origin.

Other symptoms that could suggest cancer include early onset of puberty or stunted growth.

It is extremely important that parents, guardians and the wider public be aware of these warning signs and act quickly to seek care for these children. Time is of the essence in diagnosing and treating cancer, as delays can result in further spread of disease, thus reducing the chances of cure or remission (control of disease).

 

HOW IS CANCER TREATED?

 

Cancer in children is treated in different ways. The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer, how far it has spread in the body (the stage of cancer) and the age of the child. The main forms of treatment available in Jamaica are:

- Chemotherapy - medications given to destroy the cancer cells in the body.

- Surgery - to remove the cancer growth or the body part affected by cancer.

- Radiation - high-energy beams (like light) aimed at shrinking or killing cancer cells.

These treatments do have side effects, and all proposed treatment plans should be discussed with your child's doctor.

- Jean Rose is a paediatrician.