In countries like ours, people generally consider cancer a disease in adults. Very few people have the notion that the caseload of childhood cancer is not only rising the world over but also increasing in India as well. Here in India, annually more than 50000 children get inflicted by cancer and now cancer is the 9th most common cause of mortality among children aged between 5 to 15 years as well. So, first knowing and believing that cancer can happen in the very early ages of life is almost half of the battle won.
With the primary objective of spreading awareness, recently our hospital has launched the campaign, “80% of Childhood Cancers are Curable.” In the last five years, since the inception of the hospital, we have attended to more than 2700 children in our oncology OPD. And as far as the hospital data is concerned, in these five years, more than 80% of children with cancer treated in our hospital are now cancer free. We can take many instances and among them, the cases pertaining to Surya, Isha, Shreya and Piyush (all names changed) cannot be missed.
2-year-old Surya presented to our OPD with complaints of a mass that was palpable in his abdomen. There were no other complaints. We were able to organize his investigations including a PET scan, and a surgical review, and then post him for an image-guided biopsy and bone marrow aspiration and biopsy over the next 2 days. Within the week, we had a diagnosis of neuroblastoma, and treatment was initiated. He was under the supervision of highly experienced medical staff with all the kinds of treatments that were needed. Today Surya is a victor, free from the dreaded disease.
When Sreya came to us, she was suffering from Ewing Sarcoma, a type of tumour that forms from a certain kind of cell in bone or soft tissue. After a Mega Prosthesis Surgery and chemotherapy, she is now leading a normal life and preparing to crack the NEET exam.
Piyush was a patient with Blood Cancer diagnosed at the age of 3 years. Now he is 8 and thriving at school with the ambition of becoming a doctor too. 5-year-old Isha was a victim of Bilateral Wilms’ Tumour but timely treatment has cured her of the dreadful disease too.
In all these successful outcomes, the common thing that we have observed is early diagnosis and timely treatment. But what is an early diagnosis of cancer in children? To understand this, we require to know the various types, and symptoms of childhood cancer.
Types of Common Childhood Cancers:
The most common childhood cancer is Leukemia, cancer of the bone marrow and blood. They account for about 28% of all cancers in children.
The other 4 most common forms of cancer seen in children are:
Brain tumor: The second most common form of childhood cancer is a brain tumor, seen in over 20% of the cases.
Lymphoma: Lymphoma or cancer of the lymph nodes/glands is another common type of cancer seen in kids.
Neuroblastoma: This is the commonest cancer that presents as an abdominal mass in kids aged below 5.
Wilms’ tumor: Wilms’ tumor or nephroblastoma arises from the kidneys and often presents as an abdominal lump in an otherwise well child
Early signs and symptoms of cancer in children:
- Continued unexplained weight loss
- Headaches with vomiting
- Increased swelling or pain in joints accompanied by limping
- Lump in abdomen, neck or elsewhere
- Development of a white appearance of the pupil or visual problems
- Recurrent fevers not caused by infections
- Excessive bruising
- Noticeable paleness or tiredness
If your child or any child you know has any of these persistent symptoms, even after the treatment, do not just sit and waste time. Always remember early diagnosis and timely treatment can make the child completely cancer-free by giving him/her the chance to live to their true potential. So, spread awareness, as awareness is our biggest weapon for a brighter smile and a healthier tomorrow.