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Childhood cancer: Causes, symptoms and how to deal with it

Apart from environmental factors your family history of cancer could also affect your future generation and expose them to cancer. Parent's genes increase the risk of certain types of cancer in children or sometimes they can cause a syndrome which creates developmental problems.

childhood cancer
The cause of most childhood cancers is not known.

By Dr Vikas Goswami

Cancer cases in teenagers and adults are biologically very different. According to a data published in Indian Journal of Cancer it is estimated that approximately 45,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year. According to the Indian Cancer Society, it is estimated that about 50,000 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 years will be diagnosed with cancer each year in India. The common form of cancers found in children are leukaemia, brain tumours, lymphoma, blood cancer, abdominal tumours, muscle and bone tumours. Cancer is such a sensitive issue and when children are exposed to it the cause of concern gets more serious.

As cancer cells grow, they demand more and more of the body’s nutrition. Cancer takes a person’s strength, destroys organs and bones, and weakens the body’s defences against other illnesses. This becomes more difficult in children as their immunity is on developing stage so coping with stress and diminish strength makes it difficult to take care of in children.

Cause of childhood cancer

The cause of most childhood cancers is not known. In today’s time our lifestyle plays a pivotal role in our overall health. Easily available packed or junk food, not doing enough exercises, prolonged sitting, obesity, drinking too much alcohol or cigarette smoking are exposing adults to cancer but these factors doesn’t affect much in childhood cancer. But few studies and past researches has shown that smoking in front of your children does affect their health and might increases their risk of cancer but there aren’t much proofs available. Also environmental factors like radiation exposure, too much exposure to pollution or environmental disasters like Bhopal gas tragedy have been linked to some childhood cancers.

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Apart from environmental factors your family history of cancer could also affect your future generation and expose them to cancer. Parent’s genes increase the risk of certain types of cancer in children or sometimes they can cause a syndrome which creates developmental problems.

Signs and symptoms of cancer in children

1. Poor growth

2. Sudden or unexplained weight loss

3. Blurred vision

4. Unexplained paleness and loss of energy

5. Easy bruising

6. An ongoing pain in one area of the body

7. Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away

8. Frequent headaches, often with vomiting

What to do as a parent if your child is diagnosed with cancer

If your child has been diagnosed with cancer then as a parent you need to be very strong to be able to stand by your child. Coping with your child’s cancer and finding ways to stay strong is challenging for everyone in a family. Parents and family support is of utmost importance here as children face unique issues during their treatment, after the completion of treatment, and as survivors of cancer. Children respond differently to the cancer treatment as compared to adults.

Most children’s cancer centres treat patients up to the age of 20. Many renowned hospitals in India have a separate department to treat childhood cancer which is called Pediatric oncology department. There are many successful treatments available for treating childhood cancers like chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

To conclude, I would say that parental support is much needed in dealing with childhood cancer. Parents need to be very supportive towards their child as well as to the doctors who are treating the case. We must know the risks to our children and think of our responsibilities of preventing them because our children are the hope of our future and of our country. There are many success stories of childhood cancer in our country. With this fighting spirit we can surely able to cure childhood cancer at a rapid pace.

(The writer is Senior Medical Oncologist from Max Hospital Vaishali.)