Childhood Cancer is the leading cause of disease-related death among children and adolescents under the age of 15 years in the much of the world, including in South Africa.
The causes of Childhood Cancers are not well understood, although suspected factors include medications such as fertility drugs, environmental factors, exposure to the HIV virus, and DNA mutations.
The most common Childhood Cancers are Cancer of the Bone (Ewing’s Sarcoma and Osteosarcoma) and blood (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia and Acute Myeloid Leukaemia), which account for 34% percent of Cancer in Children; Brain and Nervous System Tumours, and Neuroblastoma.
Although Childhood Cancer survival rates have risen since the 70s when most Children with Cancer died, the cases of Childhood Cancer being diagnosed have increased. Survival rates for most Childhood Cancers vary widely across cancer types.
Childhood Cancer differs from Adult Cancer in that it can happen without warning and shows little to no signs of early symptoms.
Is Childhood Cancer Rare?
Although Childhood Cancer is rare, it is the leading cause of death by disease past infancy and around 1 500 new cases of Childhood Cancer are diagnosed in South Africa every year. Of these, approximately 700 will not survive the diagnosis.
Can a Baby Have Cancer?
While it is extremely for a baby to have cancer, it does happen. The most common cancer in newborns is Neuroblastoma – a rare cancer of the developing nervous system. It can present with a tumour near or around the spine, in the abdomen or in the adrenal gland.
Sometimes doctors can tell because the baby’s liver is enlarged. Other times, they can tell because the cancer sometimes spreads to skin within the newborn period.
Cancers can sometimes be detected before birth by ultrasounds that are done to check a baby’s health.When cancer is suspected in an unborn baby, it can be confirmed by more diagnostic studies being done in utero, including MRIs and even biopsies.
In cases where cancer is diagnosed in utero, obstetricians, surgeons, and neonatologists will all be part of the medical team. Should the Team become aware that the baby is in distress or feel that the cancer may progress or harm the baby, early birth is recommended. Many of these infants are successfully treated.
Can Childhood Cancers Be Prevented?
Unlike many Adult Cancers, there are no lifestyle-related risk factors (such as smoking) that are known to influence a child’s risk of getting cancer.
A minimal amount of environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, have been linked with childhood cancer risk. Even in this case though, exposure to radiation might be unavoidable, such as if the child needs radiation therapy to treat another cancer.
If your child does develop cancer, it is important to know that it is extremely unlikely there is anything you or your child could have done to prevent it.
In very rare cases, a child might inherit gene changes that make them susceptible to a certain kind of cancer; in this case a doctor may recommend preventive surgery to remove an organ before cancer has a chance to develop there, but this is very rare.