Paediatric oncology

Specialty of Medical oncology

Paediatric oncology is a field of medicine which diagnoses and treats cancer in children.

Childhood cancer is rare. About 1 in 500 children will develop cancer by the age of 15 , and most instances of cancer in children happen before the age of five. The chances of surviving cancer as a child is much higher than for adults, and more than 82% of children are completely cured .

Types of cancer in children

The most common forms of cancer in children are:

Leukaemia – a type of blood cancer which is responsible for 31% of cancer cases in children. Leukaemia occurs when the division of white blood cells in the bone marrow gets out of control, and healthy blood cells can no longer be produced. Learn more about leukaemia here.

Brain tumours – these affect 26% of children with cancer and can be difficult to detect because the symptoms could be the result of a wide variety of conditions. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the tumour, and often radiotherapy or chemotherapy. For more information on treating brain tumours, click here.

Lymphoma – accounting for 10% of cases of cancer in children, lymphoma is a cancer of the lymphatic system, part of the immune system. It involves the abnormal growth of a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte. These are generally produced in lymph nodes, which are found all over the body, meaning lymphoma can develop virtually anywhere. For more information on lymphoma, click here.

What causes it?

In the vast majority of cases, childhood cancers are not related to the child’s lifestyle, but there may be some (as of yet) unconfirmed risk factors. That is why it is quite complicated to prevent them. However, some studies have shown that some risk factors could develop into a tumour if a child is frequently exposed to them, such as:

  • Ionising radiation
  • Smoking
  • Chemical and fine dusts or particles pollution
  • Infections

How is it treated?

The most common treatments for childhood cancer are:

What type of specialist treats cancer in children?

Treating and caring for a child with cancer involves a wide team of specialists, including:

  • radiologists to scan and monitor any tumours
  • paediatric oncologists to coordinate and provide cancer treatment
  • surgeons to take samples of tumours or remove the whole tumour
  • paediatric nurses responsible for the care of your child while in the ward
  • physiotherapists to help your child with movement after treatment
  • psychologists to address the mental health challenges of dealing with cancer
  • play specialists to help your child feel prepared for surgery, manage pain, and provide emotional support
  • teachers to provide education while your child is in hospital

It is important when choosing a healthcare provider that they can provide or coordinate the full range of treatment and support your child will need, and that you are aware of what kind of support you might require now and in the future. Many of the top consultants in the UK work privately as well as in top NHS hospitals and have solid experience of working in some of the most outstanding centres for paediatric oncology in the country.

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