Cancer is a leading cause of death for children and adolescents. The likelihood of surviving a diagnosis of childhood cancer depends on the country in which the child lives: in high-income countries, more than 80% of children with cancer are cured, but in many LMICs less than 30% are cured. The reasons for lower survival rates in LMICs include: delay in diagnosis, an inability to obtain an accurate diagnosis, inaccessible therapy, abandonment of treatment, death from toxicity (side effects), and avoidable relapse. Improving access to childhood cancer care, including to essential medicines and technologies, is highly cost effective, feasible and can improve survival in all settings.
- An unusual lump or swelling
- Unexplained paleness and loss of energy
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- An ongoing pain in one area of the body
- Unexplained fever or illness that doesn’t go away
- Frequent headaches, often with vomiting
- Sudden eye or vision changes
- Sudden unexplained weight loss
Most of these symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something other than cancer, such as an injury or infection. Still, if your child has any of these symptoms, see a doctor so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
What causes Cancer in Children?
Cancer occurs in people of all ages and can affect any part of the body. It begins with genetic change in single cells, that then grow into a mass (or tumour), that invades other parts of the body and causes harm and death if left untreated. Unlike cancer in adults, the vast majority of childhood cancers do not have a known cause. Many studies have sought to identify the causes of childhood cancer, but very few cancers in children are caused by environmental or lifestyle factors. Cancer prevention efforts in children should focus on behaviours that will prevent the child from developing preventable cancer as an adult.
Some chronic infections, such as HIV, Epstein-Barr virus and malaria, are risk factors for childhood cancer. They are particularly relevant in LMICs. Other infections can increase a child’s risk of developing cancer as an adult, so it is important to be vaccinated (against hepatitis B to help prevent liver cancer and against human papillomavirus to help prevent cervical cancer) and to other pursue other methods such as early detection and treatment of chronic infections that can lead to cancer.
Current data suggest that approximately 10% of all children with cancer have a predisposition because of genetic factors. Further research is needed to identify factors impacting cancer development in children.