Cancer diseases in children typically undergo treatment by a doctor who specializes in pediatric oncology, a branch of medicine. Pediatric oncology refers to the study and treatment of childhood cancer. The majority of children cancers are distinct from adult cancers. Infant, child, and adolescent cancers are the focus of pediatric oncology.
Pediatric oncology doctors have received specialized training in caring for children and ensuring their comfort during treatment. Many pediatric oncologists also specialize in the treatment of blood disorders or hematology. For this reason, they are also referred to as pediatric oncologist/hematologist.Cancer patients may receive treatment from pediatric oncologists until they are 20 years old.
Many pediatric cancer centers provide a warm environment to make the child feel secure while receiving treatment. Social workers are frequently available to assist the child in rearranging their social and academic calendars to accommodate their treatment. The pediatricians are instructed to explain the cancer treatment to the family and the child in a comforting and simple manner. (1)
Definition and Overview
The diagnosis, treatment, and management of cancers in children and adolescents are the main areas of study in the medical specialty known as pediatric oncology. It focuses specifically on the investigation and therapy of cancer in patients, from newborns to young adults. Pediatric oncologists are medical professionals that focus on treating young patients with cancer. There are variations between cancers in children and adults, but they might affect the same regions of the body.
Childhood malignancies can develop rapidly and without any warning signs. Some forms can typically be treated. Leukemia is the most prevalent cancer among children. Brain tumors, lymphoma, and soft tissue sarcoma are a few more cancers that affect kids more frequently. Cancers commonly seen in children include:
- Brain and spinal cord tumors
- Bone cancer
- Wilms tumor
- Bone cancer
The doctor asks the parent about their child's medical history, symptoms, and family history of cancer. Some children are more likely to have cancer if family members have cancer. The doctor may order tests and a biopsy to check for signs of cancer, such as imaging tests. If the tests confirm the cancer, the doctor will initiate the best treatment suitable for the child. (2,3)
Chemotherapy treats the child's entire body, not just the cancer cells. The cytotoxic medicines used in conventional or standard chemotherapy can kill tumor cells. Depending on the medication the child is receiving, the adverse effects could vary. To lessen the child's side effects, the doctor may suggest drugs or treatments. The child may occasionally experience long-term negative effects from chemotherapy.
A child may occasionally require surgery to help relieve the suffering brought on by cancer. Depending on the type of cancer the child has, the number of procedures required could range from one to several over time. To identify the type, and stage, and treat the cancer, the doctor may also advise surgery.
Surgery for cancer might have unfavorable side effects, such as bleeding and blood clots. Damage to neighboring tissues and organs may also occur after surgery. It's critical to consider the likelihood that the drug could cause the child to respond negatively or get an illness.
- Radiation Therapy
High-energy waves or particles used in radiation therapy can destroy cancer cells and reduce tumor size. Before surgery or chemotherapy, the child could require radiation therapy to help the tumor get small enough to be removed. Sometimes radiation is administered to the youngster without any surgery being required. Radiation therapy, as opposed to chemotherapy, only kills cancerous and healthy cells in the child's body that is being treated.
To treat the child's cancer without badly harming other organs, doctors make sure that the child receives a safe dose of radiation. Mild cell damage, weariness, a drop in blood count, hair loss, or skin changes like redness or soreness are some of the side effects of radiation.
Due to cell damage, some children also have long-term or "late" impacts. The amount of radiation, the treatment site, and the age of the child can all have an impact on long-term repercussions. To check for issues that might not show up for years following radiation therapy, the child will probably require follow-up medical appointments throughout their life. (4)
Many childhood cancers can be caught early by the child's doctor, their parents, or other family members. However, because early signs of childhood cancer frequently resemble those of much more prevalent illnesses or injuries, it can be challenging to detect them as soon as they appear. Children frequently feel sick, swell up, or bruised, which might hide early cancer signals. Cancer symptoms in children are as follows.
- An unusual lump or swelling
- Unexplained pallor and loss of energy
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Ongoing pain in one area of the body
- Unexplained fever or persistent illness
- Frequent headache, often with vomiting
- Sudden eye or vision changes
- Sudden unexplained weight loss (5)
Risks and Side Effects
Treatments that help children's cancer recovery may subsequently result in health problems. The majority of therapeutic adverse effects happen during or right after treatment and pass quickly. However, some problems could persist or appear for months or even years following treatment. These include
- heart or lung problems (due to certain chemotherapy drugs or radiation therapy to the chest area)
- slowed or delayed growth and development
- changes in sexual development and ability to have children
- learning problems
- increased risk of other cancers later in life
- bone pain
- low thyroid function
- dry eyes
- watery eyes
- eye irritation (6,7)
Post-Procedure and Follow-up
When the period of treatment is complete, the medical staff will set up a follow-up schedule. For many years following treatment, children must have regular follow-up tests with the cancer care team. The likelihood of a cancer recurrence reduces over time. Even though doctor visits may be less frequent, they are still crucial because some adverse effects of treatment may not manifest for years.
More children who are treated for cancer are now living into adulthood as a result of significant advancements in therapy. The tracking of health consequences as people age has recently become more important since therapies can have an impact on children's health later in life.
Doctors keep an eye out for signs like pain, exhaustion, and anxiety as well as other potential signals of late effects for the remainder of the patient's life. The emotional and physical impacts could linger. Parents should be aware of the child's treatment regimen and any potential effects it may have on the child's development.
1,3,4- WebMD. What Is Pediatric Oncology? (https://www.webmd.com/cancer/pediatric-oncology-overview)
2- MedlinePlus. Cancer in Children. (https://medlineplus.gov/cancerinchildren.html)
5- American Cancer Society. Finding Cancer in Children. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/cancer-in-children/finding-childhood-cancers-early.html)
6- American Cancer Society. Late Effects of Childhood Cancer Treatment. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/survivorship/children-with-cancer/late-effects-of-cancer-treatment.html)
7- American Cancer Society. After Treatment for Childhood Cancer. (https://www.cancer.org/cancer/types/cancer-in-children/late-effects.html)