Childhood cancer

What is Pediatric Oncology?

Pediatric oncology is a medical specialty that deals with childhood tumors. Childhood tumor refers to all those tumors that affect children. The most common tumors affecting this category are leukemia, brain tumors, lymphomas and bone tumors. The first childhood tumors were diagnosed around the 1950s and, at that time, only 20% of children could expect to recover. Today, however, 80% of children make it to adulthood. This high percentage is the result of increased early diagnosis and better access to treatment. Despite these data, cancer remains the leading cause of death among children.

Pediatric oncology is a medical specialty that deals with childhood tumors.

Symptoms of cancer in children

Symptoms of childhood cancer vary depending on the type of cancer affecting the child.

  • Leukemia: symptoms coincide with the entry of diseased cells into the blood, which will slowly replace healthy cells. This causes tiredness and fatigue, as well as fever, bone and joint pain, loss of appetite, headache, nausea and increased susceptibility to infection.
  • Tumors of the nervous system: they mainly affect children under 12 years of age, whose survival is estimated to be between 60% and 65%. Tumors of the nervous system affect astrocytomas, medulloblastomas, gliomas and ependymomas, causing symptoms such as hypertension with headache and vomiting, or epileptic seizures with neuropsychological disorders. Spinal cord tumor, the only exception, can only be recognized by a continuous thinning of the child before the first year of age;
  • Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: affects the lymphatic system, which is responsible for the body’s defenses and proper circulation of fluids. It mainly affects the upper body (arms, chest, neck). Hodgkin’s lymphoma is associated with fever, sweating, itching and thinning. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, on the other hand, usually presents with cough, respiratory problems and abdominal swelling;
  • Bone tumors: the main symptom is widespread pain throughout the body, often accompanied by swelling (which varies according to the position and size of the tumor). At first, the patient experiences pain only during overexertion or intense physical activity, but as the disease progresses the pain becomes persistent throughout the day. In some cases, other symptoms such as fever, fatigue, anemia and weight loss may coexist.
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What are the causes of childhood cancer?

In most cases, childhood tumors do not depend on the lifestyle of the newborn, but on risk factors that are not yet fully understood. For these reasons, it is difficult to identify adequate prevention of childhood tumors. Some studies, however, have shown that there are some factors that can be a tumor-causing source if the child is continuously exposed to it, such as:

  • Ionizing radiation
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Chemical and dust pollution
  • Infectious causes

Treatment for childhood cancer

The main methods of treating childhood tumors are:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Bone marrow transplantation (in cases of leukemia)
  • Proton radiation therapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Medications for childhood tumors

Which specialist should be consulted?

For childhood tumors, a pediatric oncologist or oncologist should be consulted.