The body is made up of cells that are vital to life. When some of these cells grow out of control, they become abnormal.
The body process for growth of new cells involves replacing old cells with new ones but sometimes the process goes wrong and then new cells are formed even when the body does not need demand the old cell refuses to die.
These extra cells can form a tumour, which is either benign or malignant. Malignant tend to be cancerous because they invade surrounding tissues while benign tumours are not cancerous. There are over 200 different types of cancer. Cancer that occurs in adult varies largely from those that occur in children. The commonest types of cancer that affect children are
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Lymphoma (including both Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin)
- Bone cancer (including osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma)
- Wilms tumor
Leukaemia is cancer that affects the blood and bone marrow. It accounts for 30% of all the cases of cancer affecting children. Acute lymphocytic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukaemia (AML) are the commonest types of Leukaemia found in children. Children with this disease often suffer weakness, bone and joint pain, fatigue, bleeding, fever, weight loss etc. As soon as acute leukaemia is detected, it needs to be treated quickly because it grows fast.
Brain and Spinal cord tumours
Most brain tumours in children occur in the lower parts of the brain causing blurred vision headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and seizures, finding it hard to handle objects and walk properly. Spinal cord tumours are not as common as brain tumours. Brain and Spinal cord tumours account for 26% of childhood cancer. It is second to Luekaemia in its prevalent among children. There are different types of brain tumours that demand different treatment.
Neuroblastoma develops in infants and young children less than 10 years old. Usually, it grows from some nerve cells in the foetus. This can occur in any part of the body but it usually starts in the belly as a swelling, which causes bone pain and fever. It accounts for about 6% of childhood cancers.
Wilms tumour also is known as nephroblastoma affects the kidney. It is common among kids between 3 to 4 years old. It can present as a lump or swelling around the abdomen. Some of the symptoms are fever, pain, nausea, or poor appetite. Wilms tumour accounts for about 5% of childhood cancers.
Lymphomas affects the immune system cells known as lymphocytes. It also affects the bone marrow and other organs of the body. There are two main types of lymphoma -Hodgkin lymphoma (Hodgkin disease) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Some of the symptoms of lymphomas are weight loss, fever, sweats, tiredness, and swollen lymph nodes under the skin.
This type of cancer affects the cells responsible for the growth of skeletal muscles. It can start in any part of the body. It presents with swellings and pain at the part affected.
Retinoblastoma is the type of cancer that affects the eye. It usually occurs in children around the age of two, and it is rarely found in children older than 6. The child’s eye is unusual in the sense that when you shine a torch on the pupil it turns white instead of red.
This type of cancer affects the bones. It often occurs in teens and older kids but it can start at any age. The two main types of bone cancer found in children are Osteosarcoma and Ewing sarcoma.
Treatment of Childhood Cancers
The treatment for cancer depends on the type of cancer involved and how advanced it is. These treatments include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, stem cell transplants and targeted therapy.
Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy refers to drugs that kill actively growing cancerous cells. Cancer cells grow rapidly without heeding the normal signals of the body that control the growth of cells.
Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy, also known as targeted therapy or biotherapy. It is a cancer treatment that invigorates a patient’s immune system so it is equipped to fight disease. This is done in partnership with other cancer treatments.
Radiation Therapy: Radiation is a form of X-rays that is used to create images of areas of the body that cannot be easily seen. Cancer treatment requires higher doses of radiation. It works by preventing and destroying the growth and reproduction of dividing cells
Bone marrow transplant: This involves the replacement of the faulty spongy tissue or stem cells inside the bones. These stem cells are the ones that develop into red blood cells, which helps to fight infections. This is used in the treatment of bone cancer.