Key Concepts in Childhood Cancer

Childhood cancers affect children in a different way compared to adults, and their coping mechanisms are also vastly different than those of adults

Children need extra reassuranceAccording to the National Cancer Institute, almost 12,400 cases of cancer are diagnosed in children below the age group of 20 every year in the United States of America. Fortunately, new research, that has led to the development of more effective treatment therapies, has paved the way for a greater 5 year survival rate in cancer patients [1]. The rate has risen from 32%,which was recorded in the 1960s, to 79% in the year 2001.

Since the 1970s, it has been observed that the death rate associated with cancer has fallen significantly, but it is a fact that cancer is still one of the greatest causes of death in children who are less than 15 years of age. Cancer is the second major cause of death, accidents being the first for this age group. According to different statistics it has been confirmed that over 250,000 individuals who have survived childhood cancer currently live in the United States of America.

Childhood cancer versus cancer in adulthood:

It must be noted that cancers that affect children are not the same in mechanism compared to those that affect adults. One of the most prominent differences lies in the fact that cure rates are higher in children. This is because childhood cancer responds to therapies and treatments in a much better way than the cancer affecting adult age groups. Children and adults may get cancers in the same body parts in most cases, but there is still a significant difference in the nature of childhood cancers based on histology.

Another prominent difference is that the anti-cancer treatment, medication and therapies that are used to cure cancer in children may have adverse effects on the normal growth and development patterns of children, which may manifest in the later stages of life. It is for this reason that the patient’s stage of growth and development must be determined before preparing the treatment or medication which will be used for combating the cancer. However, it is also a fact that children are more tolerant towards cancer treatment, and their resilience can allow for more aggressive therapies to be performed against cancer. This is not the case in adults where certain health complications can make the treatment less bearable.

Why do childhood cancers occur?

It is a fact that with the exception of a few, a majority of all adult cancers occur as a result of lifestyle factors and habits. Childhood cancers, on the other hand, are rarely associated with any lifestyle factors or habits that can contribute to the development or progress of the cancer. There is a small percentage of these childhood cancer which occur because of inherited genetic mutations or because of the exposure to certain cancer causing materials found in the environment.

Till now, there are many forms of childhood cancers whose etiology or origin is not known. Many of the cancers that affect children cannot be directly linked to a single, particular risk factor or causative agent. Sometimes environmental and external factors such as irradiation or certain chemicals taken during pregnancy may play a part in the development of childhood cancers.

Treatment of childhood cancers:

According to the American Cancer Society, all the children who have been diagnosed with cancer must be treated at specialized centers for childhood cancer which are affiliated members of the Children’s Oncology Group. This group must be associated with a well known and well established children’s hospital, research facility or university. The team, which is responsible for providing care and treatment to children diagnosed with cancer, must be comprised of highly qualified pediatric surgeons, oncologists, radiation experts, nurses and other medical practitioners. Apart from these professionals, the team must also include nutritionists, psychologists, physical therapists, rehabilitation experts and social workers. This extended team ensures the complete mental, physical and social well being of the child.

All of these professionals must be equipped with adequate knowledge and experience to effectively help the child combat signs of stress, anxiety and nervousness which may accompany the treatment. They are responsible for diverting the attention of the children away from treatment with the help of educational play and by engaging them in healthy activities as they receive their treatment. The main goal of recruiting all these professionals for the care of children is to ensure the child’s comfort and developmental progress.

Parenting through Cancer:

One of the biggest challenges in life is parenting. The challenge only becomes more amplified when a child is diagnosed positive for  cancer. It is both a painful and a difficult feat to inform the children about the diagnosis because it is in the nature of a child to get scared, nervous and worried.

It must be emphasized that hiding a cancer diagnosis from the children and teenagers in the family may have adverse affects later in life, and it is better if they are informed about the condition immediately. No matter how well kept it may be, a secret related to an illness may not remain a secret for a very long time. Parenting a child who suffers from cancer is difficult but support groups and counselors are available to provide help to parents who face such a challenge.



Keene, Nancy 2003. Educating the Child with Cancer: A Guide for Parents and Teachers. Kensington, MD: Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation.
This book was developed with the intent of promoting understanding and communication between parents, educators, and medical professionals so that together they can provide an appropriate education for children who have been treated for cancer. Learning issues that face children treated for cancer from infancy through adulthood are covered in depth, with some chapters written by experts and others by parents. Topics include gaining access to special education services, helping siblings in the classroom, physical activity in school, cognitive late effects, and grief in the classroom. Each chapter ends with a list of key points.


Carroll, William L., and Jessica B. Reisman. 2005. 100 Questions and  Answers about Your Childs Cancer. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett.

This book presents practical answers to questions about childhood cancer, treatment options, and post-treatment quality-of-life and coping strategies for both patients and parents. Two childhood cancer experts authored this book and incorporated comments from parents of children with cancer. The reviews of each cancer type are very short, but the book provides detailed information about diagnostic tests, supportive care issues and side effects, and complications of treatment that are common to all children treated for cancer. The text is easy to read, and definitions for key terms are provided on the sidebar.


Janes-Rodder, Honna, and Nancy Keene. 2005. Childhood Cancer: A Parent’s Guide to Solid Tumor Cancers. 2nd ed. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly.

This book provides detailed overviews of several childhood cancer types, but some of the chapters are relevant to all children with cancer. The authors offer practical advice on how to cope with procedures, hospitalization, family and friends, school, social and financial issues, communications, feelings, and if treatment is not successful, grief and bereavement.

This article was originally published on 7/12/2014 and last revision and update of it was 9/14/2015.