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When we welcome a new child into this world, we wish them a long and happy life, assuming that will be free from disease and illness. Sadly, cancer is the No.1 cause of death of children by the disease.
In 2016, it is estimated that 950 children aged 0-14 years will be newly diagnosed with cancer in Australia (365 boys and 285 girls) and these cancers are different from those in adults. That is about 3 families every day that are affected.
The number of new diagnoses is estimated to be higher in the 0–4 year age group (315 children) than in 5–9 year olds (160 children) and 10–14 year olds (175 children)
Approximately 85 children die every year from children’s cancers every year in Australia and sadly, this figure is rising – we think that is 85 too many. Fortunately, there is an 83% survival rate beyond 5 years from diagnosis. The chances of surviving a further 5 years is 97% not including accidents or other illnesses. The statistics are similar for girls and boys.
There are three overall types of children’s cancers:
- Cancer of the blood, known as Leukaemia
Leukaemia cells are sick immune blood cells that do not work properly and crowd out healthy blood cells. Leukaemia is the most common childhood cancers. Types of leukaemia include acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) and acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). With leukaemia, the blood cells in our bone marrow, which is where the blood is made, is at war with each other. The red blood cells which carry the oxygen and nutrients to our body, then the white blood cells which are there to fight germs and infections plus the platelets which will help to stop bleeding. Leukaemia accounts for about 30% of all children’s cancers.
Leukaemia can cause bone and joint pain, fatigue, weakness, pale skin, bleeding or bruising, fever, weight loss, and other symptoms. Usually, the treatment is chemotherapy as soon as possible.
- Cancer of the immune system, known as Lymphoma
Your immune system is your defence system in your body which finds cells that are not healthy or cells that do not belong in the body and then destroys them. When you have lymphoma then the sick cells do not work as they are designed so they crowd out healthy cells of the immune system. The also affect the bone marrow and other organs. Types of lymphomas include Hodgkin disease (or Hodgkin lymphoma – about 3%) and non-Hodgkin lymphoma – about 5%.
Symptoms depend on where the cancer is and can include weight loss, fever, sweats, tiredness (fatigue), and lumps (swollen lymph nodes) under the skin in the neck, armpit, or groin.
- Cancer of the bone, organs or tissues, known as solid tumours.
A solid tumour is a lump of sick cells that are stuck together in clusters. They can develop in many parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, liver and even your bones. They will crowd out the healthy cells and stop them functionally properly. These cancers account for approximately 25% of children’s cancers. Brain tumours can cause headaches, nausea, vomiting, blurred or double vision, dizziness, seizures, trouble walking or handling objects, and other symptoms. Spinal cord tumours are less common than brain tumours in both children and adults. Cancers that start in the bones (primary bone cancers) occur most often in older children and teens
Even babies can be presented with cancer, although rare, usually, it is neuroblastoma which affects the nervous system. Sometimes we know this may be the problem as the baby’s liver is enlarged or a swelling in the abdomen. This is approximately 6% of children’s cancers and rarely found in a child older than 10 years.
The more research that is invested into children’s cancers, the closer we should get to finding a cure and let the children live the lives they deserve.