Cancer in children and young people is rare.
They tend to occur in different parts of the body to adult cancers. They also look different under the microscope and respond differently to treatment. Looking at UK, around 2,200 teenagers and young adults (15-24 years old) are diagnosed with cancer every year.
Cure rates for children are much higher than for most adult cancers. The survival rate for children’s cancer has more than doubled since the 1960s. On average, 82% (over 8 in 10) of all children can now be completely cured. For some types of children’s cancer, the cure rate is much higher.
There is a network of specialist centres, known as Principal Treatment Centres, for diagnosing and treating children’s and teenage/young adult cancers.
What is childhood cancer?
The organs and tissues of the body are made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Cancer is a disease of these cells.
Normally, cells divide in an orderly and controlled way, but if for some reason the process gets out of control, the cells carry on dividing. In many cases these cells develop into a lump called a tumour. Tumours are either benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Doctors can tell if a tumour is benign or malignant by removing a piece of tissue (biopsy) and examining a small sample of cells under a microscope.
In a benign tumour, the cells do not spread to other parts of the body and so are not cancerous. However, they may carry on growing at the original site, and may cause a problem by pressing on surrounding organs.
In a malignant tumour, the cancer cells have the ability to spread beyond the original area of the body. If the tumour is left untreated, it may spread into surrounding tissue.
Cancer can occur in different parts of the body – there are more than 200 different types of cancer, each with its own name and treatment. Cancer can occur in organs of the body such as the kidney or the brain. These are sometimes called solid tumours.
Sometimes cells break away from the original (primary) cancer. They may spread to other organs in the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. When the cancer cells reach a new area they may go on dividing and form a new tumour. This is known as a secondary cancer or a metastasis.
Cancer can also occur in the blood cells in the bone marrow (leukaemia) or in the lymphatic system (lymphoma).
Causes of Childhood Cancer?
It is still unknown as to what causes childhood cancer and research is being done to find out more.
Parents often worry that something they did or didn’t do may have caused their child’s cancer. This is not the case, so you shouldn’t feel guilty or that you’re to blame for your child’s illness.
It’s very rare for another child in a family to develop cancer, as most cancers aren’t caused by an inherited faulty gene and so it is usually not necessary to investigate siblings.
Cancer is not infectious and can’t be passed on to anyone who comes into contact with your child.
Sometimes, two or three children in the same school or local area develop cancer. This can make people worry that something in the local area is causing the cancer. Several cases of cancer in a small area are known as a cancer cluster.
Cancer clusters are carefully investigated, but are usually found to be a coincidence rather than being caused by a particular chemical or environmental change.
If your Child Have Cancer
It is devastating to hear that your child has cancer and you will have many different feelings and emotions.
When told the diagnosis, you may feel numb or as if you have been physically hit. You may be shocked, bewildered, scared, sad, guilty, angry or may not be able to believe that this has happened to your child. These are normal reactions. It is important to remember that it’s not your fault your child has cancer and it’s not because of anything you’ve done or anything you have not done.
When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it obviously has a big impact on the whole family. Your child’s routine is likely to change, they may have to stay in hospital for treatment, and they’re likely to have regular hospital appointments.
This may feel overwhelming for you, your child and the rest of the family. But there are many healthcare professionals and support organisations and charities that can help you though this difficult time.
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