Yes. But cancer in children behaves different from cancer in adults. When children are first diagnosed, they frequently have a more advanced stage of cancer. Eighty percent of children with cancer show that it has spread to distant parts of the body as compared to only about 20% of adults. While adult cancers are often attributed to lifestyle choices such as smoking, diet and occupation, childhood cancers have no such known causes and childhood cancers do not attack the same body parts as adult cancers.
Children suffer from brain and bone cancer, leukemias, lymphomas, and tumors of the muscles, kidneys and nervous system. According to the National Childhood Cancer Foundation, lymphomas account for 15% of all childhood cancers while leukemias make up 23% and central nervous system/brain accounts for 18%.
A major difference between adults and children lies in the treatment process. Adults often are treated in their local community by a family doctor and consulting oncologists. Children, however, must be precisely diagnosed and treated by scientists who are experts in the management of childhood cancer. These teams are found in children's hospitals and Comprehensive Cancer Centers.
What's special about cancer in children?In general, it's important to remember that the entire family is most affected by cancer in a child and everyone will have a special need for care and education. Because of these needs, it is highly recommended that you seek treatment from a cancer care center that specializes in children with cancer. These may be found at major children's hospitals, university medical centers and Comprehensive Cancer Centers. The facilities can provide the entire family with education and support from a team of child care specialists. Childhood cancers require more than just pediatric oncologists -- nutritionists, social workers, child psychologists and others work together to care for your family.
As with adult lymphomas, there are no known risk factors (things or activities that directly increase the risk of developing lymphoma) linked directly to the cause of lymphoma in children. Children do not suffer the lifestyle or long-term environmental risks that adults do.
Children with compromised immune systems from infection such as HIV, from drugs given during organ transplants or due to inherited deficiencies must be especially monitored and cared for as a weakened immune system is related to developing lymphoma. However, not all children with these conditions develop lymphoma.
The bottom line is that because there are no known causes, there is no way to definitively protect a child from lymphoma.
A child's cancer cells tend to rapidly reproduce and grow faster than most adult cancer cells. Therefore, even though the cancer appears to be contained to one tumor or swollen gland, the disease has almost always spread beyond its origin. In order to kill all the lymphoma cells present throughout the body, a systemic treatment plan of chemotherapy is the preferred method. Fortunately, because their cells are multiplying so quickly and chemotherapy drugs target rapidly growing cells, children tend to respond better to chemotherapy than adults.
Surgery may damage other normal organs so it is not normally prescribed to remove a non-Hodgkin's tumor. Surgery may be used to aid in diagnosis to determine the specific type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) and its stage of development (how far the disease has spread). Surgery also may be called for in an emergency or to see firsthand if a tumor is responding to chemotherapy. There are cases where surgery has been successful in removing the entire mass of lymphoma during a biopsy but careful follow-up must be done to ensure the cancer has not spread but is still too small to be felt elsewhere.
Radiation is no longer the initial treatment for childhood NHL except in emergency cases where surgery is not appropriate to relieve pressure (near the windpipe or spinal cord). But with more effective drugs, radiation is often replaced by chemotherapy even in these cases.
Bone marrow or stem cell transplantation is used for children who relapse after chemotherapy treatment. These procedures are very expensive and may not be covered by your insurance carrier. Please check at all stages of your cancer care to ensure that proper coverage is in place.
For in depth information on staging NHL in children and the specific treatments, please visit the American Cancer Society's site at www3.cancer.org/cancerinfo/load_cont.asp?st=tr&ct=9.
Some facts and figures
According to the American Cancer Society:
According to the Lymphoma Information Network:
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