Authored by Dr. Stalin Ramprakash, Consultant – Paediatric Haematology, Oncology & BMT, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore
There is a ‘Can’ in cancer because you can beat it. Overcoming the disease is just a mindset and every cancer fighter and survivors must remember that the disease cannot cripple love, shatter hope and conquer one’s spirit.
While the adversities of the illness often upturn the life of both parents and the child, however, nurturing a positive environment and adopting the right practices can help the parents navigate through the challenges with a sense of calmness and serenity while taking care of the child during the difficult times.
Most common types of Childhood Cancers
The most common types of cancers among children are –
- Brain and spinal cord tumours
- Wilms tumour of the kidney
- Lymphoma (Hodgkin and Non-Hodgkin)
- Bone cancer
Causes of Childhood Cancers
While on most occasions no clear reason could be identified why a particular child developed cancer. There may be some predisposing factors that may increase the risk of cancer.
- Environmental Factors – It has been witnessed that radiation exposure often triggers several types of childhood cancers. Furthermore, if you are a passive smoker or if your parents are chain smokers then the children can become victims of the disease.
- Genetic Modifications – Changes in DNA of the cells often transform them into becoming cancer cells. In most cases, children inherit this DNA either from parents that increases their risk of certain types of cancers
- Womb Cancer – In certain rare cases, a child may develop cancerous tissues while in the womb. These cells remain dormant in the womb and become active after the child is born and transforms into cancerous tumours.
- Lifestyle – Unchecked lifestyles such as being obese, lack of proper exercise and careless habits can impact children after many years.
Signs and Symptoms
It is important to note that each patient will present different signs and symptoms of cancer and hence, it is critical to get your child examined by a doctor if they show any signs or symptoms that do not go away. Lack of awareness often leads to delayed diagnosis and therefore seeking help early becomes paramount.
There are several signs and symptoms of cancer which include –
- Lump or swelling in abdomen, neck, chest, pelvis or armpits
- Lack of energy or fatigue
- Increased bruises of bleeding
- Limping without reason
- Slow growth
- Poor immunity and fevers for many days at a stretch
- Blurred vision
- Dull or pale skin
- Infections near the ear, chest, nose or throat
- New onset of squint
- Early morning headaches along with vomiting
- Deterioration in school permormance
- Difficulty in walking or movement of recent onset
- Bladder or bowel dysfunction
Tests and Treatments Available
Even though cancer is the second leading cause of death among children of the age group 1 to 14, as per the American Cancer Society, but, major treatment advances made in recent decades have led to improved survival rates and in most cases, children and teens diagnosed with cancer can be treated successfully. There are several tests and treatments that are performed to diagnose the disease –
- Blood Tests – These help in identifying the different kinds of cells in the child’s blood. In case the cells are high or low, the test detects the types of cancer.
- Biopsy – In cases of brain cancer, Biopsy is the only available option to cofirm the diagnosis. The type of biopsy is dependent on the location of the tumour.
- Bone Marrow Aspiration studies and biopsy- In this test, the marrow samples are examined and analyzed to study the fatty tissue inside the larger bones.
- Doctors also use several other tests like lumbar puncture, ultrasound, compound tomography, magnetic resonance imaging, position imaging tomography and scans or radioisotope that help in accurately detecting the type of ailment.
- Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation
- Targeted Therapy
- Multimodal therapy
Steps for the psychological well-being of parents
Family members often have a hard time coming to terms with the realities of the child’s illness. While the child undergoes turmoil, it becomes crucial to foster an environment that breathes positivity, encouragement and love. There are several steps that parents can take to ensure their well-being during such challenging times which include –
- Educating yourself – Ignorance is the greatest adversity during such times and as a parent, one must arm themselves with knowledge. Simple steps like maintaining a journal of a child’s medical record and information regarding their condition can be helpful tools in alleviating stress. This also helps in keeping parents stay up-to-date on the treatment process and they can also learn several other steps to take care of their child at home.
- Maintain a routine – Maintaining a routine around the treatment schedules can help the parents in coping. While it may take some time to recover from the shock of the child’s illness, accepting the new normal and continuing regular activities will also help parents feel more in control. These practices also create scope for stress relief and help in managing the situation more effectively.
- Seeking help from counsellors and support groups – Support groups are an excellent way to connect and meet with other parents who are dealing with similar situations. Sharing knowledge through tips, experiences and suggestions is not only a great morale booster for parents but can help them in steering through the journey in a more empowering and holistic way.
Every child deserves the gift of good health. While cancer is an uncontrollable disease, parents must remember that it is ‘curable’ and not the end of life. Early diagnosis helps in securing the best outcomes in this race against time and most paediatric cancers have been found to respond better to treatment. It is important to stop fearing the C-word and build a more nurturing attitude towards cancer detection and treatment.