The most common Childhood Cancers about which we normally hear include Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Brain Tumours, Neuroblastoma, Wilms Tumour, and Lymphoma. These are also the most common Childhood Cancers in South Africa, but they are not the only cancers that children can get.
Compared with adult cancers, childhood cancers are rare and there are a number of very rare types which account for around 20-25% of all childhood cancers. Most behave like other children’s cancers, growing and spreading to other parts of the body.
Unfortunately, while there have been many improvements made in the field of paediatric oncology in the past decade or two, those have mainly been in the more common childhood cancers, and not much has been done for various very rare childhood cancers as they have been treated as “orphan diseases”.
Fortunately this situation has gradually seen change, and various projects dedicated to these rare diseases have been developed in several countries.
Rare Children’s Cancers
Rare Children’s Cancers are broadly categorised as follows:
Children’s Liver Tumours
- Hepatoblastoma (usually occurs in children under five)
- Hepatocellular carcinoma or HCC (which is rarer and usually occurs in older children).
Liver cancer can be either primary (starting in the liver) or secondary (metastatic and spread from another part of the body).
Other Rare Childhood Cancers
Tumours that normally only occur in adults are occasionally found in children and include cancers of the digestive system, the thyroid, and the adrenal gland.
Rare tumours which only occur in children include:
- Malignant rhabdoid tumours
- Melanotic neuroectodermal tumours of infancy
- Rare tumours in the head and neck area (Nasopharyngeal Cancer)
- Rare hormonal/endocrine tumours (Phaeochromocytoma)
- Rare brain tumours (Meningioma)
- Rare skin tumours (including Melanomas)
While a few studies are being done on rare childhood cancers, the prevalence of these cancers seems to be increasing, as is the general rate of cancer diagnoses – this could either be due to more people being aware of cancer and its warning signs, due to better and earlier diagnosing of cancer, the advances in the medical field, or due to more pollution and other lifestyle causes of cancer…
Whichever it is, this has made it imperative that more money is spent on research for Childhood Cancer, including for developing treatments for the “rare” childhood cancers.