By: Donald J. Beno, MD

Many of us know someone who has been diagnosed with cancer. In spite of advances made in treatment success, it’s still hard news to hear. Now image the person who has been diagnosed with cancer is your child.

Every year about 15,700 parents hear that their child has cancer. Every day, 43 children are diagnosed with cancer. The average age of diagnosis is six.

More than 40,000 children undergo cancer treatment every year. There are 375,000 adult survivors of childhood cancer in the U.S.

Children can get cancer in the same parts of the body as adults. However, a difference with childhood cancer is it can happen suddenly, without early symptoms. And childhood cancers have a high rate of cure.

Cancer occurs when cells in the body start to grow out of control. Cells in about any part of the body can become cancerous.

Childhood cancers are typically one of three types:

  • Leukemia — blood cancer

Leukemia is a cancer that originates in the bone marrow – the soft tissue inside our bones where blood is made. Leukemia starts in the blood-forming cells, most often the white blood cells. The blood-forming cells can turn into leukemia cells. When this happens, the leukemia cells no longer mature normally. They might reproduce quickly and not die when they should.

These cells can build up in the bone marrow and crowd out the normal cells. Then they can spill into the bloodstream fairly quickly.

From there they can migrate to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes and the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord), and keep cells there from doing their jobs.

Leukemia’s are the most common childhood cancers.

  • Lymphoma — immune system cancer

The body’s defense system is the immune system. With lymphoma, some of the cells in the immune system don’t work correctly to protect the body. These cancer cells crowd out the healthy cells in the immune system.

There are two types of lymphoma: Hodgkin disease (or Hodgkin lymphoma) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Solid tumors — organ, bone or tissue cancer

A tumor forms when cancer cells clump together. Tumors can form in several locations in the body, such as the brain, kidneys, liver, eyes and bones. As with other cancers, the diseased cells crowd out healthy cells and prevent them from doing the work they’re intended to do.

Fortunately, great strides have been made in childhood cancer treatments, and the survival rates are much better than a generation ago.

The key to successful cancer treatment is early detection. Regular checkups with your health care professional are helpful. And parents, family members and health care professionals should watch for unusual signs or symptoms that don’t go away such as:

  • An unusual lump or swelling
  • Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
  • Easy bruising
  • An ongoing pain in one area of the body
  • Limping
  • Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
  • Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
  • Sudden eye or vision changes
  • Sudden unexplained weight loss

Keep in mind that similar symptoms can be caused by conditions not related to cancer. If you have any questions about these kinds of symptoms, promptly visit your health care professional with your child.

Source: American Cancer Society

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