The Sun Will Shine Tomorrow

It’s a very sad fact that adults are not the only ones who suffer from cancer children get it too. Very young children, who are too young to understand what is happening to them, get it and very often they are far braver than we as adults could ever be. It could be that children have a natural optimism about them. The sun will always shine for them and if it doesn’t shine the next day it is sure to shine that day after. They take great joy in simple things like coloured crayons and scraps of paper. We could learn a great deal from them.

It will come as a great relief to learn that childhood cancer is relatively rare, only 14 out of every 100,000 children in the US is diagnosed with cancer each year. Some of the most common types are leukemia, lymphoma and brain cancer. In teens one of the most common cancers is osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer. Most cases of childhood cancer arise from non-inherited mutation in the genes of growing cells. The process is random and unpredictable so there is no effective method of preventing it. In some cases children who have been treated with chemotherapy or radiation therapy for prior cancer have an increased risk of getting cancer, which just doesn’t seem fair, does it? Cancer is difficult to diagnose early in children, as the symptoms often resemble other conditions, it is only sometimes that a doctor will be able to pick it up as cancer during the regular check ups.

Once cancer has been diagnosed it is important to go to a centre that specialises in paediatric oncology for the best possible all round treatment for your child. Treatment for children includes chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Leukemia and lymphoma are the least likely to be treated with surgery as they are linked with the circulatory system. Solid tumours can be removed relatively easily via surgery, which is then used in conjunction with either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. Bone marrow transplants are carried out when the cancer affects the functioning of the blood cells; this is often done in conjunction with chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is therefore used mostly as a complimentary tool to get rid of any lurking cancer. It can be given intravenously, orally or intrathecally or into the spinal fluid. Radiation is very commonly used in the case of children. A stream of high-energy particles or waves is aimed at the cancer area and they destroy or damage the cancer cells. It is also used in conjunction with chemo or surgery.

Children should be involved with their own cancer treatment. They should be kept informed about the facts and progress and all effects should be explained to them in language that they can understand. The primary goal is to prevent fear and misunderstanding. You may find that older children may feel responsible for the cancer, as if it is their fault somehow. The psychologists and social workers that are part of the cancer team can really come to the fore at this moment and help reassure them. They can also visit the school and chat to teachers and classmates about the cancer and explain things to them in a friendly way.

All of this comes from and I would just like to add a quick spot of information on some of the most common types of childhood cancers. Leukemia: cancer of white blood cells. The most common childhood cancer. A large amount of abnormal white blood cells are produced in the bone marrow, they crowd the bone marrow and flood the blood stream. This interferes with the production of other types of blood cells and anaemia develops as well as other bleeding problems and an increased risk of infection. Leukemia makes up roughly 25% of childhood cancers. Leukemia can divided into 2 categories, acute (fast developing) and chronic (slow developing), 98% of all leukemias are acute. Leukemia can be further divided into acute lyphocytic leukemia (ALL) and acute myelogenous leukemia (AML) depending the specific white blood cells affected. 60% of the cases are ALL, 38% are AML and roughly 2% are chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).

Lymphoma is the third most common childhood cancer. It is found in the lymphatic tissue i.e. lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, tonsils, adenoids, bone marrow and connecting channels. It is divided into 2 types, Hodgkin’s disease and Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Reed-Sternberg cells are found in Hodgkin’s disease, which affects around 3 in 100,000 Americans. Symptoms include swollen glands in the neck, armpits or groin. If it’s in the thymus symptoms will include an unexplained cough, shortness of breath and problems with circulation around the heart. Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma targets specific types of lymphocytes; there is minimal bone marrow involvement. It is more common in white males and those with sever immune deficiencies.

Osteosarcoma is the 6th most common childhood cancer and the most common bone cancer. It begins in the bones and spreads outwards unlike a lot of other cancers that begin elsewhere in the body and then attack the bones. It affects teens the most, usually during a growth spurt. It affects boys more than girls and is usually found in the knee.

It seems that childhood cancers seem to really enjoy messing with the growth systems of children. They don’t want the kids to grow up at all. Rather mean spirited really. However, a really solid piece of good news is that childhood cancer has a high recovery rate. Up to 70% of all children with cancer can be cured. Now if that isn’t worth a bright yellow crayon sun with a big smiley face, I don’t know what is.