Dr Tendai Zuze Health Matters
When you think of cancer, you usually imagine it occurring in an elderly person. It is worthwhile to remember, though, that children can also get various types of cancer. The types of cancer in children, however, are different from those that develop in adults. Lifestyle or environmental risk factors don’t usually play a role.
Instead, cancer in children is usually the result of DNA changes in cells that take place very early in life. Worldwide, more than eighty percent of children with cancer now survive five years or more but cancer is still the second leading cause of death in children younger than 15 years old, after accidents.
Cancers in children are sometimes hard to recognise because common illnesses can mask the early warning signs.
Below are some of the common childhood cancers and their signs and symptoms.
Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia (ALL):
The most common childhood cancer, this accounts for about 34 percent of all cancers in children. ALL typically occurs between the ages of two and four, and is more common in males than females.
Leukaemia begins in bone marrow and spreads to the blood, and can then spread to the organs.
Bone and joint pain
These and other nervous system tumours make up about 27 percent of childhood cancers.
There are many types of brain tumours and the treatment and outlook for each is different. Most brain tumours in children start in the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum or brain stem.
Although brain tumours are typically different in children as opposed to adults, many of the symptoms remain the same.
Vision, hearing or speech problems
This arises from immature nerve cells in infants and young children. Primarily found in children younger than five, this disease often begins in the adrenal glands.
It’s more common in males than females, and only one to two percent of children with this disease have a family history of it.
Impaired ability to walk
Changes in eyes (bulging, dark circles, droopy eyelids)
Pain in various locations of the body
High blood pressure
This starts in the kidneys and is the most common type of paediatric kidney cancer.
Wilms tumours usually only form in one kidney, but sometimes both — only in small cases — and accounts for about five percent of all paediatric cancers. This disease is typically found in very young children — three to four years old — and is not common in children over six years.
Swelling or lump in the belly
This starts in certain cells of the immune system called lymphocytes. These cancers affect lymph nodes and other lymph tissues, like the tonsils or thymus.
They can also affect the bone marrow and other organs, and can cause different symptoms depending on where the cancer is growing. There are two main types of lymphoma:
Hodgkin’s lymphoma, sometimes called Hodgkin disease, is rare in children younger than five years of age. This type of cancer is very similar in children and adults, including which types of treatment work best.
Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is more likely to occur in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still rare in children younger than three years.
The most common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children are different from those in adults. These cancers often grow quickly and require intensive treatment, but they also tend to respond better to treatment than most non-Hodgkin lymphomas in adults. Symptoms include:
Swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin
If you think your child might have cancer please take them to a doctor.