Cancer in children is more common than you think. Unfortunately, 400,000 children and adolescents between the ages of 0 and 19 are diagnosed with cancer each year. If diagnosed and treated quickly, the mortality rate of this disease can be reduced. In the following, you will learn about the causes, prevention methods and ways to cure cancer in children. Keep reading.
What problems has cancer caused in children?
Cancer is one of the leading causes of death for children and adolescents in the world, especially in developed countries. In Iran, based on Statistics, 3,000 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer every year; That means 16 out of every 100,000 children under the age of 15 get cancer each year.
The chances of a child surviving cancer are dependent on the country where the child lives. In developed countries, 80% of patients are cured; But in many low-income countries, the figure is only 15 to 45 percent.
Among the reasons for the lower probability of survival of cancer patients are:
- Abandon treatment;
- Cancer return;
- Lack of medical facilities;
- Death due to side effects;
- Inability to accurately diagnose cancer;
- Delay in diagnosis and progression of the disease.
Centers for the care of children with cancer must be established in order for cancer patients to survive. These centers should have new and cost-effective drugs and tools and be able to provide easy access for the patient.
How does cancer develop in children?
Cancer can occur at any age and in any part of the body. The disease begins with a genetic change in a cell and then grows into a gland as it grows. This gland also attacks other parts of the body and causes injury or even death. Unlike cancer in adults, most childhood cancers have no known cause.
Many studies have looked at the cause of cancer in children. In rare cases, the disease is caused by environmental factors or children’s lifestyle. To prevent cancer, you need to focus on behaviors that prevent avoidable cancers in adulthood.
Some chronic infections, such as AIDS, Epstein-Barr virus, and malaria, may increase the risk of childhood cancer. These factors are more prevalent in low-income countries. Other infections can also increase a child’s chances of getting cancer in adulthood. It should be noted that the hepatitis B vaccine can prevent liver cancer, and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine can prevent cervical cancer. Also, rapid diagnosis and treatment of chronic infections can reduce the risk of cancer.
According to new research, about 10% of all children with cancer are at risk for cancer due to genetic factors. More research is needed to understand the impact of other causes of cancer in children.
How can cancer injuries in children be reduced?
In general, it is not possible to prevent cancer in children. The best way is to reduce the impact on the child’s life and reduce the damage by quickly and correctly diagnosing the disease and effective treatment. Treatment of this disease should be completely based on the symptoms and with proper care.
Early detection increases the likelihood that drugs will work and the cancer patient will survive, and will require easier, cheaper, and less invasive treatment. Children can have a better life if cancer is detected quickly and without delay. Proper diagnosis is also essential for treatment, as each cancer needs its own treatment, which can include surgery, radiation or chemotherapy.
Rapid detection consists of 3 elements:
- Access to prompt treatment;
- Rapid awareness of family and primary caregivers of the patient’s symptoms;
- Accurately and timely assessment, diagnosis and detection of cancer stage.
Prompt diagnosis is effective in increasing the chances of many cancers surviving. Programs have been devised for the rapid and accurate diagnosis of this disease, which are currently working successfully. In high- or low-income countries, these programs are driven by the efforts of governments, civil society, and NGOs, and parents have an essential role to play. Cancer occurs in children with many warning signs that family and primary caregivers can detect.
Cancer screening is not usually effective in pediatric cancer. In some special cases, it is used for people who are at high risk for infection; For example, some types of eye cancer in children may be caused by an inherited mutation, so if a child is diagnosed with retinoblastoma or a family mutation, the child may be diagnosed with eye cancer. Because a handful of pediatric cancers are caused by genetic factors, there is no reason for general cancer screening in children.
Proper diagnosis of cancer is essential for the proper treatment of the type and stage of the disease. Cancer treatment typically includes chemotherapy, surgery, or radiation therapy. Also, special attention should be paid to the continued development of children’s intelligence and physicality and their nutrients. Around the world, children’s access to effective diagnosis, essential medicines, tests, blood products, radiation therapy, and psychological and emotional care is not the same.
However, in 80% of children with cancer, treatment is possible if the right facilities are available; For example, pharmacotherapy includes commonly priced regular medicines on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines for children. These drugs include 27 cytotoxic agents, 5 concentrated therapies and 4 hormonal therapies. Children who are being treated should be monitored regularly to monitor the long-term effects of treatment and the recurrence of cancer.
Relieving the symptoms of cancer improves the quality of life of the patient and his family. Not all children with cancer have access to treatment; But relief from pain is possible for everyone. Symptom relief in child care is one of the most important factors in complete care. This begins when the disease is diagnosed and continues until the end of care and treatment; Even if the care received is not able to treat the patient.
Symptom relief programs can be through home or community care, the provision of painkillers, and psychological support for patients and their families. Adequate access to morphine and other analgesics should be used to treat severe to moderate cancer pain, which occurs in more than 80% of cancer patients in the lethal stage.
What is the WHO Program for the Care of Children with Cancer?
In 2018, the World Health Organization, in collaboration with other organizations, launched a global program to improve cancer in children. The program helped governments build and maintain quality care centers for children with cancer through guidance and technical assistance. The goal was for at least 60 percent of children worldwide to be more likely to survive cancer by 2030 and suffer less pain. By doing so, in the next decade, the number of cancer treatments in children will double and 1 million will be added to cancer survivors. The goals of this program include:
- Increasing the priority of cancer in children globally, regionally and nationally;
- Increase the capacity of countries to receive the best treatment for children with cancer.
In support of this program, the CureAll treatment framework is used along with its technical features. These facilities help countries increase their treatment capacity, prioritize, invest, and provide appropriate symptomatic treatment and care for patients. Also, a portal for information exchange has been created so that experts from different countries can share their experiences and knowledge.
The World Health Organization, the International Center for Cancer Research, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations worked together to:
- Provide access to needed tools and medicines at reasonable prices;
- Increase political responsibility to address the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in children;
- Support governments in establishing advanced cancer treatment centers and regional imaging;
- Governments to support families financially and socially disadvantaged by cancer treatment;
- Establish appropriate cancer standards and tools to guide and plan rapid diagnosis, treatment, symptom relief, and survivor care.
Common cancers in children include leukemia, brain cancer, lymph node cancer, and solid tumors such as neuroblastoma or Wilms’ tumors. Pediatric cancer cannot be prevented by screening; So it is better to diagnose and treat this disease quickly.
Access to facilities is an important factor in reducing the mortality of children with cancer. If there are appropriate diagnostic and treatment facilities, late and misdiagnosis will be reduced and patients will be more likely to recover. Parents need to be educated in recognizing the symptoms of cancer in children so that they can provide effective and timely treatment.