Cancer in Children Awareness Month
The Cancer in Children Awareness Month is an annual campaign celebrated every month of April to increase cancer detection awareness about cancer in children, its symptoms, and treatment. Childhood cancer affects children from birth up to age 19. It is one of the leading causes of death among children in the Philippines. The leading cancers among children in the Philippines are leukemia, brain and spinal cancers, and lymphoma.
A report from the Cancer Warriors Foundation, Inc. states that only 10 percent of Filipino children diagnosed with cancer survives. Proper information, early detection, and appropriate treatment can help beat cancer.
Like most cancers, the cause of cancer in children is largely unknown. There are several risk factors that are highly associated with childhood cancer.
- Radiation exposure is linked to the development of cancers in children. Ionizing radiation exposure comes from diagnostic radiation such as x-rays done during pregnancy. Children receiving radiotherapy have greater risk of developing cancer. Studies show that less than 1% of childhood leukemia cases are associated with living near nuclear power plants. Although a few studies have demonstrated an increased risk for leukemia among children living near high-voltage power lines, there are no conclusive data to support these findings.
- Infections can cause certain types of childhood cancers, commonly Hodgkin lymphoma, Burkitt's lymphoma, and Kaposi sarcoma. Acute lymphocytic leukemia (ALL) has been linked to an abnormal response to infection, especially in those children who have had fewer infection incidents during infancy or fewer immunizations.
- Down syndrome and some genetic abnormalities have been associated with a small percentage of leukemia cases.
- Maternal smoking during pregnancy increased the risk of developing cancer in the child by 10 percent.
- Some drugs and medication taken by the mother during pregnancy such as diethystilboestrol (DES), a drug given in some countries for threatened abortion, have been proven to cause cancer.
Common types of childhood cancer in the Philippines are the following:
- Leukemia composes the majority of childhood cancer cases in the country, at about 47%. The disease can present itself as pallor, bruising, unexplained fever, cold sweats, bleeding, anorexia, and joint or bone pain. Leukemia is diagnosed primarily based on blood tests, bone marrow [biopsy], and blood morphological studies.
- Spinal and brain cancers make up 10% of cancers in children. Brain and spinal tumors can cause headache, problems in vision, vomiting, nausea, difficulty in walking, and muscle weakness. Previous head trauma has been associated with some brain cancers, but some studies show that the link is not very strong. Diagnosis largely dependent on a thorough neurological examination, tumor tissue biopsy, and imaging studies such as [magnetic resonance imaging] (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans.
- Lymphoma, both Hodgkin's disease and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, is the third most common childhood cancer at 9% of all cases. Lymphoma affects the [lymph nodes] around the neck (cervical), arm pits (axillary), chest (thoracic) and groin (inguinal). Persons with lymphoma usually exhibit painless swelling of lymph nodes, weight loss, body malaise (generalized weakness), and fever. Diagnosis includes lymph node biopsy, histological studies, and tests for lymphoma markers.
- Retinoblastoma comprises 7.5% of all childhood cancers, usually affecting children below 4 years old. Retinoblastoma involves the retina of the eyes, presenting as a white pupil or strabismus (cross-eyes). Because it is largely a hereditary cancer, genetic testing is a recommended diagnostic step in families with a history of retinoblastoma.
- Wilms' tumor is a childhood cancer of the kidneys that develops in children less than 5 years old. It affects 3% of all childhood cancer patients and presents as a painless lump of the abdomen. Abdominal or flank pain becomes apparent as the disease progresses. Diagnostic procedures include blood tests, urinalysis, kidney function tests, imaging studies of the kidneys and, most importantly, histopathologic studies of tumor tissue.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma is a cancer where tumors grow in soft tissues such as muscles. It accounts for about 3 to 4% of cancers in children, mostly below age 7. Tumor biopsies, CT scans, bone marrow biopsy and bone scans are done to diagnose the disease.
- Osteogenic sarcoma, also called osteosarcoma, is a type of bone cancer that makes up about 2% of all childhood cancers. It presents with bone pain, accompanied by anemia or low blood platelet levels. It is common for osteosarcoma to develop in those with osteogenesis imperfecta, also known as “brittle bone disease”.
- Radiotherapy and chemotherapy, usually in combination, are common treatment approaches in childhood cancer. Laser therapy or cryotherapy are used to target retinoblastoma tumors of the eyes. *Surgical removal of tumor growth is done in brain and spinal cancers, rhabdomyosarcoma, lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and Wilms’ tumor. Stem cell transplants are often recommended for leukemia and lymphoma. Medications are adjunct therapy for childhood cancers, and may also be recommended.
Support and follow-up
As in most cancers, post-treatment support and follow-up are vital [Fondue Forks to survival. Annual check-ups should be done to monitor progression and spread of cancer.
Many cancer patients discontinue treatment due to high cost of anti-cancer drugs. Aside from campaigning to heighten awareness about childhood cancer, support groups work in collaboration with government hospitals to provide free medications to those in need.
Some childhood cancer support groups are the following:
- Cancer Warriors Foundation
- Childhood Cancer Foundation of the Philippines
- Kapwa Ko Mahal Ko Foundation
- Kythe Foundation
- Philippine Cancer Society
- Project Brave Kids
- “April is Cancer in Children Awareness Month”.Healthway Medical.(Accessed on 29 March 2014).
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- Fact Sheet: Childhood Cancers. National Cancer Institute. (Accessed 13 November 2010)
- “Head Injury as a Risk Factor of Brain Tumor in Children.” JSTOR. (Accessed 13 November 2010)
- Retinoblastoma. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. (Accessed 13 November 2010)
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