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By  Dr. Pankaj Dwivedi, Sr Consultant - Pediatric Oncology & BMT      
On 05 February 2018

Childhood is the golden period of everyone’s life. This is the time of desires and dreams of unexplored possibilities. But for children faced with cancer, it is a battle for life. Though the incidence of childhood cancer luckily low, still getting treatment in the right place is a challenge.

As a pediatric oncologist, the most difficult situation I face is when I break this unwanted news to the parents, it is not only heartbreaking but also makes them feel helpless for their small one. My responsibility is not limited to treating these kids with my team but to give the fact-based knowledge, encouragement, and emotional support to the entire family.

What Causes Cancer in Children?

In most cases, we don’t know the causative agent for childhood cancer; still, some infections, genetic abnormalities, radiation exposure, and medication during pregnancy have a correlation with cancers in children. It can occur anywhere in the body, including the blood and lymph node system, brain and spinal cord (central nervous system-CNS), kidneys, and other organs and tissues.

How does Cancer begin?

Cancer begins when healthy cells change and grow out of control. In most types of cancer, these cells form a mass called a tumor. A tumor can be cancerous or benign. In leukemia - cancer of the blood, that starts in the bone marrow, these abnormal cells very rarely form a solid tumor. Instead, these cells crowd out other types of cells in the bone marrow. This prevents the production of normal cells like RBCs, WBCs, and platelets, etc.

Childhood cancer is a general term used to describe a range of cancer types and noncancerous tumors found in children. Childhood cancer may also be called pediatric cancer. The most common types of cancer in children under 15 years old are Acute leukemia (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, Acute Myeloid Leukemia), Brain tumors (Gliomas, Medulloblastoma), Neuroblastoma, Germ cell tumor, Ewings tumor, Rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS), etc.

The Success of Modern Medicine

Progress in the treatment of childhood cancer is one of the great success stories of modern medicine.  In the last few decades, there is enormous progress in treating most of the childhood cancers. Current management of childhood cancer is a result of enormous clinical trials. With each trial there was a little bit of progress but added together over decades, those have translated into an enormous improvement in the outcome. The main modalities of treatment of cancers are chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and surgery.

We have to understand that when we treat a child with cancer we’re really treating an entire family.

There are other needs as well that are unique to children. It’s not only that child is away from his study, friends, and normal health; rather he is struggling with pain, discomfort, and psychological stress.

In the Indian scenario, where finance is a prevailing issue preventing family to bear huge expenses involved in treatment, we need efforts especially from government agencies, our society, and individuals to make treatment available to all the needy kids.