1 in 500 children will be diagnosed with cancer before they are 14 years old. Although around 75% will survive, sadly 60% of those who do will suffer from “late-effects” of the treatments used to save their lives.
Cancer forms when our normal cells mutate and begin to rapidly divide in an abnormal fashion. As the cells grow, they can cause growths – commonly known as tumours and can also spread to other areas of the body. There are five main categories of children’s cancer including carcinoma, sarcoma, leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma and brain and spinal cord cancer (CNS cancers).
Because of the way cancers form, many treatments for cancer are designed to attack (or stop) rapidly dividing cells. Unfortunately, this means these treatments can also attack non-cancerous cells that are healthy and are dividing naturally. In adults, the treatments attack the dividing cells found in your hair, gut and immune system, which explains the common side effects of hair loss, nausea and increased susceptibility to infection often experienced during chemotherapy treatments.
Typically the types of cancer that are found in children affect the blood cells, lymph system, brain, liver or the bones. Although they can still occur, it is less likely for a child to be affected by cancers such as prostate, breast, colon and lung.
In children, unlike in adults, most of the body’s cells are still dividing rapidly as part of their normal growth process. This means treatments that target dividing cells not only cause the side effects seen in adults but also cause damage to healthy cells throughout the body. This damage can lead to lifelong, life-limiting disabilities in children known as late-effects. Sadly of the children diagnosed with cancer, around 25% will not live to see their 30th birthday
Current cancer treatments available for children with cancer include chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery, immunotherapy, precision medicine and stem cell transplantation. Depending on the diagnosis and the strain of cancer, multiple treatments may be used. Due to a focus on adult cancer research, some of these treatments can currently be too harsh or damaging for children. Learn more about the different cancer treatments available for children, the side-effects and the future of children’s cancer treatments:
Although there are only a few categories of cancer, there are mutations in the patients’ genes that can make it difficult to identify the cause and can also make generic treatments challenging to use. Read more about the different cancers most commonly found in children:
If you’re looking for support for those affected by childhood cancer, there are many charities which directly work with children, including:
Kidscan works exclusively on discovering and developing new, safe treatments so that children diagnosed in future can receive the targeted therapies they need to survive and thrive