Pieces of advice from a doctor with 30 years of experience in pediatric oncology
Cancer cases number is increasing globally, in all age groups, including children, and the main cause, experts say, must be connected with the industrial development. Pediatric cancer – besides an increase in the number of cases – also sees an increase in the aggressivity of its manifestation: simultaneous disease outbreaks, several organs effected at the same time or a period of disease spread much more reduced than the handbook information. Also, specialists mention more and more cases of cancer in babies, one or two months old infants. How can a child come to be diagnosed with cancer? Dr. Inci Ayan, Acibadem specialist with over 30 years of experience in pediatric oncology, explains.
First of all, there is a genetical factor that predisposes a child to cancer. For instance, in the case of a mother with a breast cancer history, diagnosed at a young age and with relatives (mother, grandmother) with breast cancer, it is a clear clue that the health condition of the baby needs to be monitored, since there are risks of sarcoma occurrence. Then, there are certain diseases that increase the risk of cancerous disease occurrence, namely congenital diseases or immunodeficiency syndromes. Another cause for cancer occurrence in children is chromosomal anomalies associated with a higher risk of leukemia, for instance, or lymphoma.
Besides the genetic inheritance, there are viruses that the child can get in contact with and that can predispose to cancer.
Hepatitis B, for instance, can trigger liver cancer. Or the Epstein Barr virus, a very frequent infection for children, which, in certain cases, can lead to lymphoma occurrence or to another type of cancer, nasopharyngeal carcinoma. Another virus with a negative reputation is the HPV virus. Hepatitis C, for instance, in certain parts of the world, as the Mediterranean area or the African countries, can lead to lymphoma occurrence.
The environment we raise our child into can have an influence?
During the last 10 years I noticed an increase of cancer incidence in children and one cause is the mass production. Fertilizers, growth hormones to increase productivity that are ingested has negative effects on genes, causing dangerous oncogenic mutations. Pollution, including the one associated with using the latest technology (phones, tablets) can increase the frequency of cancers in children (leukemias, brain tumors, certain types of sarcomas). And I must emphasize that smoking, in the case of the mother, but also of the father, can cause the occurrence of sarcoma in the child, as compared to children from non-smoking families.
The Acibadem expert insists: the pediatric cancer can be cured. Over 60% of the children suffering from cancer can be saved and can enjoy a normal life afterwards – a figure reported for all types of cancer and independent from the stage of the disease when diagnosed. But the success rate increases to 90% in cases of cancer with early diagnosis. Therefore, parents need to pay attention to the symptoms.
It is important not to exaggerate, but also not to ignore certain symptoms. First, parents need to know that a pediatric cancer is an acute disease and that means they need to worry if a child is not feeling well for days or weeks. We can be alarmed if: the child often has infections or fever episodes, is pale, seems anemic or certain spots appear that can suggest hemorrhages at skin level, if there are nasal bleedings or gingivitis, headaches signaled by bouts of crying, episodes of vomiting that can signal an increased intracranial pressure, leg aches in the growing period. Also, mothers need to pay attention to possible bumps in the fontanel area which can be observed when they breastfeed. If school performance and concentration decrease, these are also signs that something is wrong at brain level.
Beside the importance of an early diagnosis, there’s a crucial condition for defeating the disease: the right therapy received in hospitals with experience in pediatric oncology, having the latest technology. And applying all of these from the very beginning.
During the past years I had many patients from Romania and I noticed that, in the beginning, they came to us for a second opinion, after being initially treated in their own country, but the disease relapsed. When the disease relapses in a very short interval, it’s more difficult to save the patient’s life. The sooner they turn to the multi-disciplinary treatment approach in the early phases of the disease, the more the survival rate increases. In Acibadem Maslak, a hospital with a dedicated section fro pediatric oncology, we focus on the perfect collaboration between nuclear medicine (which can analyse the entire body with an investigation called PET-CT), anatomo-pathology (performing biopsies without surgery, only through ultrasounds or tomography) and genetics. For each cancer case, the so-called board tumor – a board of all specialists managing a case – is reunited once a week and talks about progresses. This permanent collaboration and the ultra-modern technology helped us cure hundreds of children during the last 3 years.
The most frequent cancer cases in children are leukemias, brain tumors, lymphomas, sarcomas, bone or liver cancer. In Romania, according to the latest data, there are approximatively 6000 children suffering from cancer.