Childhood Cancer Awareness Month aims to improve patient care and survival

(Photo: King Hussein Cancer Foundation and Center logo from Facebook page)
AMMAN— September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month across the globe, the aim of which is to promote awareness of childhood cancers and how to care for patients and improve their survival rates.اضافة اعلان

Cancer in children is rare, however, overall instances of cancer in children has been rising since 1975. Internationally, childhood cancers are one of the leading disease-related causes of death in children, especially in children aged five to 14.

The three most common types of cancers in children in Jordan are: Leukemia, which makes up around 25 percent of all cases; brain cancer and cancer of the central nervous system, which make up around 20 percent of all cases; and lymphomas, which make up around 17 percent of all cases. The overall incidence rate for cancers was 89 per million for those under 14 years old in 2015.

What is cancer?

Cancer is a disease caused when normal cells in the body begin to grow uncontrollably and spread to other parts of the body. Such cells can form visible lumps made up of groups of cancerous cells or tumors. Some lumps are visible on the skin, like moles.

Moles, also known as nevi, are often small dark protrusions found on the skin. Nevi form as a result of melanocytes growing abnormally. Melanocytes are the cells responsible for pigmentation of the skin.

By definition a nevus is benign, meaning it does not spread and invade other parts of the body or skin and is therefore not cancerous. Although, benign tumors such as nevi have the potential to become cancerous or malignant.
Twenty-five percent of malignant melanomas or skin cancer are often dangerous and arise from preexisting nevi. The difference between cancers and tumors is that tumors are simply an abnormal growth of cells, whereas cancer is uncontrolled cell growth that results in the growth spreading and invading other parts of the body.

What makes cancer especially dangerous how rapidly a malignancy can spread. Cancer places a high demand on the body, in particular in areas to which is spreads. Due to rapid and uncontrolled growth, cancers will have their own blood supply to absorb copious amounts of oxygen and nutrients, all at the expense of neighboring healthy cells.

Ultimately cancers cause the death of healthy normal cells in the body that helps the spread of cancerous cells. Cancerous cells do not have the same biological function as none cancerous healthy ones. If the part of the body invaded by these cells is of vital importance, like the lungs or brain, it can have detrimental effects on the individual and can be life-threatening.

Furthermore, cancer has the potential to spread to other parts of the body in a process called metastasis. A common example of this is in breast cancer. Tissues within the breast become cancerous and travel via the bloodstream or lymphatic system and have the potential to begin new growths in areas like the brain which can also be life-threatening.  

What causes cancer?

There are many likely causes of cancers. Cancer is a genetic disease that can be developed later in life due to environmental factors that cause mutations to cell genes, or may develop due to an inherited genetic predisposition to develop a certain type of cancer. It can also be congenital or present at birth.

In childhood cancers, one of the most common causes is genetic predispositions. Our body has genes and methods to prevent cells from developing abnormally and potentially becoming cancerous. Sometimes, cancerous cells can form due to random errors in this process, but it is very rare.

A common cause for cancer is genetic predisposition which can either be inherited from the parents or as a result of genetic mutations during fetal development. An example of this is childhood retinoblastoma, or eye cancer. Ninety percent of children with a faulty or mutated gene known as the Rb1, develop retinoblastoma. In these instances, 40 percent of mutated genes are inherited.

Environmental factors have been found as a possible cause of childhood cancers. In childhood leukemia, a “two-hit hypothesis” has been suggested as a causal mechanism that is still being investigated by researchers. The first “hit” takes places during fetal development as genetic mutations alter cells, and the second “hit” occurs a few years after birth, resulting in full-blown leukemia.

Other possible causes have been established and investigated, such as ionizing radiation and chemical pollution. Possible causes such as infections have also been studied in detail. Certain viruses have been linked to cancers including Burkitt lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Although infections account for a small portion of cases, evidence supports the role of infection in the development of leukemia.

Treatment options

Treating cancer in children is not always treated in the same ways cancer in adults is treated. Cancer treatment depends on the type of cancer and how aggressive it is. Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, and stem cell transplants are some of the common treatments for childhood cancers.

In leukemia, specifically acute lymphoblastic leukemia, treatment usually calls for two to three years of chemotherapy, but treatment protocols are vary greatly. In Jordan, childhood leukemia has a survival rate of 73 percent.

In brain cancers and cancers of the central nervous system, the treatments also vary wildly, owing to the fact that there are many different types of these cancers. In Jordan, the survival rates of these cancers is 58 percent, which is one of the lowest compared to other cancers.

There are many treatments for lymphoma, more specifically Hodgkin’s lymphoma, including radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination of the two. In Jordan, the survival rate for this cancer is high at 86 percent.

The impact of cancer treatment on the body can be far more strenuous than the impact of the cancer itself. The treatments may affect children more severely than adults due to the fact their bodies are still growing and developing. The psychological effects of going through the disease and long treatment process can further impair children’s development.

The King Hussein Cancer Center (KHCC), located near the south gate of the University of Jordan, is one of the best cancer treatment centers in the world. Founded in 2001 by HRH Princess Ghida Talal, the KHCC has received various international accreditations and was the first center to be accredited by the Joint Commission International in the developing world as a disease-specific cancer center. They offer exceptional care in the region and are renowned for incorporating emotional and social support into their overall treatment plans.

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