Top 10 Most Common Cancers In Children And Adolescents – How To Treat Them?
Cancer is the leading cause of death for children and adolescents worldwide, and it’s more than just one disease. There’re over 100 different cancers and can develop almost anywhere in the body. It can be in the lungs, kidney, colon, or even in the blood.
Cancer can affect any person, young or old. It begins with changes in a single cell, which then abnormally grows out of control, and if left untreated, cancer can expand and spread to any other parts of the body and eventually cause death.
Cells are the basic units that make up our body, and all have certain jobs to do. As the cells grow, they divide to make new cells, and when they get too old or damaged, they die, and new cells take their place. When anything interferes with this orderly process, the cells grow uncontrollably, and now, cancer occurs.
Therefore, Cancer is a disease that occurs when the body cells lose control of how they grow and interact with other cells in the body. The cells grow abnormally out of control and overpower the normal cells in the body, making it hard for your body to work the way it should.
These cells grow in a way that; the body can no longer control; they can develop into unusual sizes and shapes, others grow and move past their boundaries inside the body, while some destroy nearby normal cells.
Most cancers form a lumped mass called a tumor (growth). But not all lumps are cancer. We call lumps that are cancerous malignant while those that are not cancer benign. Some cancers, like leukemia, don’t form tumors because they grow in the blood cells.
The most common types of cancer in children aged 0 – 14 years are leukemia, brain, and central nervous system tumors, lymphomas, among others.
Among adolescents from 15 to 19 years, the most common types of cancer are brain, lymphomas, followed by leukemia, testicular and ovarian, germ cell tumors, among others that we shall learn in this article.
Some cancers grow and spread fast, while others develop slowly. Cancers also respond differently to treatments. Some types are best treated with surgery, but others respond better to drugs called chemotherapy.
Below are the top 10 common cancers in children and adolescents, but before that, what do you think is the origin of cancers?
Causes Of Cancer In Children And Adolescents
The causes of most cancers in children are unknown, but doctors relate a few childhood cancers to a mutation in genes. Children inherit some cancers from parents, one example being the cancer of the eyes.
In adults, these gene mutations result from exposure to environmental factors that cause cancer, such as cigarettes, asbestos, radiation from the sun, etc.
However, cancer experts also link environmental exposures such as ionizing and radiation to childhood and adolescent cancers. For instance, the radiations can be as a result of;
- The atomic bombs (like the Second World War bombs in Japan).
- X-rays during pregnancy; children can be exposed to radiations before birth, or
- Radiations from computed tomography (CT) scans during medical diagnosis.
Leukemia is a cancer of the bone marrow cells and blood and is the most common cancer type in children. Leukemia occurs when the bone marrow produces a lot of abnormal white cells unable to fight infections. These white blood cells pack around the red blood cells and platelets, making it hard for the body to get enough oxygen and stop bleeding when injured.
Types Of Leukemia
- Acute lymphoid leukemia (ALL)
It is the most common childhood cancer, which involves the growth of abnormal white blood cells called lymphoblasts. ALL normally occurs in the kids aged between 2 and 4.
It is common in boys than girls. ALL can grow quickly; therefore, they need to be treated immediately when found, usually with the method known as chemotherapy.
- Acute myeloid leukemia (AML)
This type involves the abnormal growth of white blood cells called myeloblasts and monoblast.
Note: Because leukemia cells start in the bone marrow and enter the blood, it can affect the entire body since the blood spreads everywhere in the body. So, it can affect the brain and spinal cord, the ovaries, the testicles, kidneys, and other organs.
Symptoms Of Leukemia
- Bone and joint pain
- Pale Skin
- Bleeding or bruising
- Weight loss.
9. Brain And Spinal Cord Tumors
Brain and spine cancers happen when there’s an abnormal growth of immature cells in the brain or spinal code. These abnormal cells can disrupt the child’s general normal behavior, movement, sensation, or thought.
These types of tumors are the second most common cancers in children after Leukemia. They mostly affect the lower parts of the brain, such as the cerebellum. Although there are many types of brain and spine cancers in children, the treatment for each is different.
Types Of Brain And Spine Tumors
There are four common groups of childhood and adolescent brain tumors, and they depend on the cancer cells involved.
- Primitive neuroectodermal tumors
These cancers arise from primitive nerve cells. They’re more common in children than in adolescents.
It starts from a supportive tissue of the brain called astrocytes. They’re usually low-grade and high-grade. Lower-grade tumors grow and spread slowly than high-grade tumors, which are more aggressive and can spread to other parts of the brain and the spine.
Usually, it occurs in the ventricles of the brain. The ventricles produce the fluid (cerebrospinal) that covers the brain and the spinal cord; so, in case an ependymoma is present, that fluid will send the cancer cells around the brain and spinal cord.
- Brain-stem gliomas
These tumors affect the nerve cell at the base of the brain; remember, this part of the brain deals the crucial functions such as breathing, heart rate, and swallowing.
Note: Brain tumors are common than spinal cord tumors in both children and adults.
Symptoms Of Brain And Spine Tumors
- Blurred or double vision
- Balance problems
- Hearing or speech problems
- Trouble walking or handling objects
- Frequent vomiting
Neuroblastoma is cancer that arises from abnormal growth of immature nerve cells, most often arising in an organ that makes hormones (adrenal gland) located around the kidneys. The tumor can start anywhere, but commonly in the belly (abdomen), in the cells along the spine, or chest.
Neuroblastoma can start in early forms of nerve cells of an embryo or fetus, affecting infants and young children, especially younger than 5 years. It’s more common in males than in females.
This type of cancer can affect the body’s normal function, especially the infected areas, and can also spread to the bone marrow, skin, liver, lymph nodes, and bones.
Symptoms Of Neuroblastoma
- Impaired ability to walk
- Pain in various locations of the body
- Eyes can bulge, form dark circles, or eyelids become droopy
- Pain in the bones
- High blood pressure
7. Nephroblastoma (Wilms Tumor)
Nephroblastoma occurs in especially one kidney, but only in small cases; both kidneys can be affected. The abnormal, immature kidney cells grow, causing a mass on the abdomen, which disrupts the kidney function. Wilms Tumor can spread to the organs like lungs, brain, liver, bone, or lymph nodes.
It’s the most common type of kidney cancer in children (pediatric renal cancer). And it’s typically found in very young children aged 2 to 5 years. It’s not common in children over 6 years and adults.
Symptoms Of Wilms Tumors
- Swelling or lump in the belly (abdomen)
- Poor appetite
Lymphoma is cancer that occurs in the immune system cells called lymphocytes. This cancer affects lymph nodes and other tissues like the tonsils or thymus.
The Lymphoma abnormal white blood cells formed end up crowding and covering the normal lymphoid tissue, making the nodes unable to defend the body against infections.
Lymphoma cells can also affect the bone marrow and other organs such as the spleen or liver. The symptoms vary depending on where the cancer is growing. Lymphoma types occur both in children and adults.
Types Of Lymphoma
- Hodgkin lymphoma
Also called Hodgkin disease. It’s rare in children below 5 years, though, more common in early adulthood (the early 20s) and late adulthood (50s).
Hodgkin disease usually grows with gradual signs such as fever and weight loss. This cancer is similar in children and adults, as well as the types of treatment that work best.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma
It occurs more likely in younger children than Hodgkin lymphoma, but it is still uncommon in children below 3 years.
The common types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in children differ from those in adults. These types of cancers grow quickly, and so; it requires intensive treatment. However, affected children tend to respond better to treatment than adults.
There are three major types of non-Hodgkin lymphoma namely;
- Lymphoblastic lymphoma
- Mature B-cell lymphoma
- Anaplastic large cell lymphoma.
Symptoms Of Lymphoma
- Lumps (swollen lymph nodes in the neck, armpit, or groin)
- Weight loss
- Fatigue (Weakness).
Rhabdomyosarcoma is cancer that starts in cells that develop abnormally into skeletal muscles. (We use the skeletal muscles to move and control the parts of our body.)
This is the most common type of soft tissue cancer in children. This cancer type can start in the head and neck, belly, groin, pelvis, in an arm or leg, or anywhere in the body.
Rhabdomyosarcoma can interfere with the body’s normal functioning because as it grows, it spreads to the lymph nodes, bone marrow, bones, or lungs. It may cause painful or non-painful swellings.
Types Of Rhabdomyosarcoma
- Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma
It mostly affects teenagers and commonly affects large muscles of the arms, trunk, legs, and other places as well.
- Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma
It is common in infants and young children and commonly occurs in the head and neck, bladder, prostate, and private parts.
4. Bone Cancers
These are cancers that start in the bones. Most often in older children and teens, but still can develop at any age.
Primary bone cancers can spread to the lungs, other bones, and soft tissues. Symptoms can include painful lumps on the bones, swelling, and interfering with normal bone growth and stability.
Note: Primary bone cancer and metastatic bone cancer are different. Metastatic cancers are immature growth of cells from non-bone cells then spread to the bones.
Types of Primary Bone Cancers
It is common in teens and usually grows where the bone is quickly growing, such as near the ends of the leg or an arm. It causes pain in the bone, usually at night, and can also cause swelling around the bone.
These cancers often arise during puberty, and most of these bone cancers develop in the knee region.
- Ewing sarcoma
Ewing sarcoma is uncommon bone cancer. It’s often found in young teenagers. It occurs commonly in the hip (pelvic) bones, ribs, shoulder blades, and in the middle of the legs and arms.
This is the cancer of the eyes. It usually occurs in children around 2 years old, but it’s not common in kids older than 6.
Retinoblastomas are usually found when a child is noticed to have an unusual eye. An eye pupil may look red because of the blood in vessels when you shine a light in a child’s eye. In an eye with retinoblastoma, the pupil often looks white or pink.
2. Thyroid Carcinoma
Thyroid cancer is an abnormal growth of thyroid tissue that grows in a butterfly-shaped gland as a lump or lumps in the middle of the neck.
This cancer disrupts thyroid hormone production, which controls heart rate, metabolism, and blood pressure. Thyroid carcinoma can spread into the neck areas, lungs, bone, and occasionally the brain.
1. Germ Cell And Gonadal Tumors
Germ cell cancers come from abnormal immature cells which normally develop into the reproductive eggs in girls and sperm in boys.
Most germ cell tumors start in the reproductive cells of testes or ovaries (gonads), leading to abnormal hormonal changes. Some of these cancers can arise as lumps in the abdomen, chest, or brain and can spread to the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and brain.
How Parents And Caregivers Can Help Children & Teenagers Living With Cancer
- The main goal when living with children and adolescents affected by cancer is treating to cure them. Some treatments may cause side effects, but many therapies and medicines are more comfortable for children during treatments.
- Most cancers in children can be cured with generic medicines and surgery, radiotherapy, and other treatments.
- You can involve kids with their cancer treatment by using language the child will understand. Possibly explain to them the effects and facts about cancer. For instance, it’s enough for young children to say that they are “sick” and need “medicine” to get better. The goal here’s to prevent fear and misunderstanding.
- In case the children feel guilty as if cancer is their fault, Psychologists, and other cancer treatment team members can help them cope with their feelings.
- The first time to have a child being treated for cancer could be overwhelming. You’re not alone. Find support, talk to any social worker in a hospital around to find resources available to help you and your child.
- Generally, It’s not possible to prevent cancer in children, so the effective strategy to reduce cancer is to focus on an accurate, prompt diagnosis followed by effective treatment.
- Sometimes it’s hard to recognize Cancers in children because of common illnesses and bruises that look like the early signs of cancers so that they can mask the real warning signs of cancer. It’s crucial to take note of the top cancers and the warning signs for each.
- Side effects of cancer treatments can be severe. And it’s important to remember that though kids usually respond well to treatment than adults, children who have had cancer will need careful medical care because they’re at risk of catching cancer again.
- Some risk factors that increase the risk of childhood cancer are chronic infections such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus, and malaria.
- You can avoid a child’s death from cancers by not delaying diagnosis, letting them access care, and ensuring they don’t abandon their cancer treatment, among other measures like vaccination, to help save lives.
Where To Find Treatment For Children And Adolescent With Cancer
It’s important to understand that both young and old children need holistic growth. And any disease just like cancer is a hindrance to a child’s growth and development, and that’s why it’s crucial to deal with cancer at an early stage.
Cancer in children and adolescents can be cured possibly for more than 80%, according to The World Health Organization (WHO).
The correct diagnosis is essential to treat children with cancer because each cancer requires a specific treatment method, including surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.
For more information read, Common Pediatric Cancer Treatment Explained
To treat children and adolescents who have cancer, often go to a cancer center for children, a hospital, or a unit within a hospital that specializes in diagnosing and treating children and adolescents who have cancer.
The doctors at those centers are professionals, specifically trained and expertise to provide inclusive care for children, adolescents, as well as their families.
Let’s save today’s child for a better generation tomorrow.