Frequently Asked Questions

How common is childhood cancer?
Childhood cancer is relatively rare. It accounts for less than 1% of all new cancer cases each year. However, it remains a significant concern as it is the leading cause of disease-related death in children. Early detection and improved treatments have increased survival rates, offering hope to affected children and their families.

What are the most common types of childhood cancer?
The most common types of childhood cancer include leukemia, brain and central nervous system tumors, neuroblastoma, Wilms tumor, lymphoma, rhabdomyosarcoma, retinoblastoma, and bone cancer. Leukemia is the most prevalent, accounting for approximately one-third of all childhood cancer cases. These cancers can vary in terms of age of onset, symptoms, and treatment approaches.

What causes childhood cancer?
The exact causes of childhood cancer are often unknown. Unlike adult cancers, childhood cancer is typically not linked to lifestyle factors like smoking or diet. Some genetic and environmental factors may play a role, but in most cases, the exact cause remains a mystery. Research into the origins of childhood cancer is ongoing.

Are there warning signs parents need to know?
Yes, there are warning signs of childhood cancer that parents should be aware of. These can include unexplained and persistent symptoms like unrelenting fevers, unusual lumps or swellings, frequent bruising or bleeding, bone pain, unexplained weight loss, and changes in the child’s energy levels. If these symptoms persist or worsen, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional for further evaluation. Early detection can lead to better outcomes.

What long-term side effects or late effects are possible based on the cancer treatment my child received?
The long-term side effects, also known as late effects, of childhood cancer treatment can vary widely depending on the type of cancer, the specific treatments received, and the individual child. Some common late effects may include organ damage, developmental delays, cognitive issues, secondary cancers, and emotional or psychological challenges. Regular follow-up care with a healthcare team familiar with childhood cancer is essential to monitor and manage these potential late effects.

What follow-up tests will my child need, and how often will those tests be needed?
The follow-up tests your child will need and their frequency depend on the type of cancer, the treatments received, and the individual’s medical history. Generally, follow-up tests may include regular physical exams, blood tests, imaging scans, and other assessments. The frequency varies but is often more frequent immediately after treatment and may become less frequent as time goes on. Your child’s healthcare team will provide a personalized follow-up schedule based on their specific situation.

What is the chance that the cancer will come back?
The likelihood of cancer recurrence in children depends on various factors, including the type of cancer, its stage, the treatments received, and the individual’s response to therapy. While some childhood cancers have a high cure rate, others may have a risk of recurrence. Regular follow-up care and monitoring are crucial to detect and address any signs of recurrence early. The prognosis varies from case to case, and your child’s healthcare team can provide more specific information based on their situation.

Should I watch for specific signs or symptoms?
Yes, it’s essential to be vigilant for specific signs or symptoms that could indicate a potential problem or recurrence of childhood cancer. These may include unexplained and persistent symptoms like fevers, pain, fatigue, changes in appetite or weight, and unusual lumps or bumps. Parents should also monitor for any new or unusual symptoms and promptly report them to their child’s healthcare team. Early detection can lead to more effective treatment.

What are the most common treatment options for childhood cancers?
The most common treatment options for childhood cancers include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, surgery, immunotherapy, targeted therapy, stem cell transplant, and sometimes, precision medicine. The specific treatment used depends on the type of cancer, its stage, and the individual child’s needs. The treatment plan is carefully customized by a healthcare team to provide the best possible outcome while minimizing side effects.

Where will my child be treated?
The location of your child’s treatment will depend on various factors, including the type and stage of cancer, the availability of specialized care, and your geographic location. Childhood cancer treatment is often provided at specialized children’s hospitals, cancer centers, or pediatric oncology units within larger medical facilities. Your child’s healthcare team will help determine the most suitable treatment center based on their specific needs.

Do children have better survival rates than adults with cancer?
In general, children with cancer tend to have higher survival rates than adults. This is partly because pediatric cancers often respond well to treatment and because children’s bodies can often tolerate more aggressive treatments. Advances in pediatric oncology have also improved outcomes. However, survival rates can vary greatly depending on the type and stage of cancer, early diagnosis, and access to specialized care. It’s essential to work closely with a healthcare team to ensure the best possible outcome for a child with cancer.

What’s the best way to talk to children about their cancer diagnosis?
The best approach to talk to children about their cancer diagnosis is to be honest, age-appropriate, and supportive. Use clear and simple language, answer their questions truthfully, and provide emotional reassurance. Encourage open communication and involve them in decisions about their care when appropriate. Seek guidance from a child life specialist or a counselor who specializes in pediatric oncology to help with these conversations and provide emotional support to both the child and the family.

Children with cancer have a significant risk of serious infection. What will you do to prevent infection?
Preventing infections in children with cancer is a top priority. Healthcare providers take several measures to minimize infection risks, including:

  1. Neutropenic Precautions: Children with cancer often have low white blood cell counts (neutropenia), which makes them vulnerable to infections. Healthcare providers closely monitor these counts and may recommend protective measures, such as wearing masks, avoiding crowded places, and practicing good hand hygiene.
  2. Vaccinations: Ensuring that children are up to date on their vaccinations can reduce the risk of vaccine-preventable infections.
  3. Prophylactic Medications: Some children may receive prophylactic antibiotics or antifungal medications to prevent infections.
  4. Isolation: In cases of extreme vulnerability, children may be placed in isolation rooms to limit their exposure to potential sources of infection.
  5. Hand Hygiene: Frequent handwashing and hand sanitizing for both the child and those around them are essential in infection prevention.
  6. Education: Caregivers receive education on infection prevention and are instructed to stay vigilant for signs of infection, promptly reporting any concerns to the healthcare team.
  7. Environmental Hygiene: Maintaining a clean and sanitized environment in the hospital and at home is critical in preventing infections.

It’s important to follow the healthcare team’s guidance and be vigilant in infection prevention to protect children with cancer during their treatment.

Will my child still feel and act like a child, be able to play and go to school?
Yes, despite the challenges of cancer treatment, children can continue to feel and act like children. They may still play, go to school, and engage in age-appropriate activities. However, the extent to which they can participate may vary based on their treatment, side effects, and overall health. Support from healthcare professionals, teachers, and caregivers can help children maintain as much normalcy as possible during their cancer journey.