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For adults, the idea of death and dying is nothing less than thought provoking and scary. And if this is the case for older people who are thought to have had much more life experience and enjoyment for the years they have lived, just imagine what this would be for children who have just entered this world. In the setting of having a child with an advanced stage cancer, dealing with eminent loss is a very sensitive experience.
Most Common Cancers in Children
In order of prevalence, the most common cancers in children are cancers in children are leukemias. These are specific cancers that attack the white blood cells and the bone marrow from which they originate. Particularly aggressive, leukemias require an intensive course of chemotherapy once diagnosed, and unfortunately the risk of recurrence is considerable after initial treatment. They account for approximately 31% of all cases of children cancers, with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (arising from the lymphocytes directly) and Acute Myelogenous Leukemia (arising directly from the bone marrow) being the two most common types. Leukemias generally present with generalized bone pain, fatigue, lack of appetite, weight loss and sometimes, bleeding problems.
While adults tend to develop tumors in the upper parts of the brain, children tend to have lower brain tumors. Pediatric brain tumors and spinal cord cancers generally cause headaches, double vision, dizziness, unsteady gait, nausea and vomiting.
Neuroblastomas are the third most common types of cancers in children and are thought to arise from the developing neural crest cells of the embryo. It generally presents as a protrusion and swelling in the abdomen which is accompanied by fever and bone pain. However, it is rarely observed in children older than 10.
Next to neuroblastomas, you have Wilm’s Tumors which are tumors arising from the kidneys (generally 1, rarely both) and present as a swelling or protrusion in the lower abdominal region. Wilm’s tumor does not generally present in children older than 6 years of age.
It is generally discovered incidentally by the parents, when they notice that their child’s eye looks unusual. When a light is shone in the affected eye, the pupil looks whitish or pinkish instead of reddish as it would in a normal eye (due to the presence of blood vessels). Parents could notice the white glare after taking a photograph with flash, for example.
Bone cancers are at the bottom of the list, but are also commonly encountered in children with cancer. The two most common types are osteosarcomas and Ewing sarcoma. Ewing sarcoma has a tendency to develop in the bones of the pelvis, the chest wall (ribs, sternum, etc.,) and in the long bones (legs and arms); whereas osteosarcomas develop in the long bones of the legs and arms, but mostly at their distal extremities.