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Childhood Cancer

To put it in the simplest way possible, cancer affects all types of bodies. Both human and non-human animal bodies, bodies of different races, ethnicities, and cultures, and most importantly, bodies of all ages. While some select people may in fact have cancer-fighting cells which prevent them from acquiring the disease, for the majority of humankind, cancerous cells can form at any point in time and in any part of the body, including in children, sometimes as early as fetus development.

Specifically, cancer affects about 10,000 new children under the age of 15 every year. It is the leading cause of death for children under 15 as well, with about 1,400 deaths occurring yearly. In general, childhood cancers are different from cancer which affects adults for a few different reasons. Mainly, the difference has to do with the types of cancers which afflict children over adults. There are some cancerous cells, for instance, which materialize from early embryonic cells. Others are merely far more prevalent in younger bodies than older ones; the most common adult cancers include skin, breast, lung, and prostate cancers, while childhood cancers mainly include leukemia, bone, brain, and nervous system cancer, and eye cancers. Both groupings of cancers grow and develop in very different ways, but for this reason, childhood cancers are also treated easier. This is another major difference between adult tumors and tumors in children. As a whole, children respond very well to treatment, especially in today's world. Modern medicine have seen drastic improvements in cancer treatment, and studies currently show that roughly 80% of childhood cancer patients will survive five or more years past diagnosis (often more). Just 40 years ago, this number barely reached 50%, so the progress is quite evident.
Childhood Cancer Diagnosis: Despite the high-success rate of treatments, an initial childhood cancer diagnosis will nevertheless produce an understandable amount of shock, fear, stress, anxiety, etc. This whirlwind of emotions, though, is both expected and normal. Cancer is a scary disease that can often have very scary consequences, and when it afflicts a young child, the prospect of a worst-case scenario can often push a parent or caregiver's emotions to the limit. Sometimes, a child or parent will feel at fault, and while this is also normal, it must be understood that most types of childhood cancer could not have been prevented. The truth is that there will often be no reason or cause for the cancer, and trying to find one will only place more stress upon the situation. Instead, relaying feelings like these to others who might help in understanding, like doctors or other members of the childhood cancer community, and finding out as much as possible about the specific childhood cancer at hand, will help adjust to the reality of the situation in a healthy manner. Whether or not a child is old enough to understand the implications of the situation, information passed on to a caregiver should similarly be passed on to them in an age-appropriate way.
Ultimately, the main goal is for everyone to gain as much understanding as possible. By keeping in mind that an entire team of pediatric specialists will be working with a childhood cancer patient to not only ensure survival, but to ensure that the treatment process goes as smoothly as possible, with as little alteration to that patient's healthy body (and the processes within it) as treatment allows, the cancer "experience" will be as positive as can be.
Dealing With Childhood Cancer: At the end of the day, however, everyone will have their own way of dealing with childhood cancer. After all, every case, every family, and every situation revolving around the cancer, including finances, is unique. Dealing with the diagnosis calmly enough so that the best solutions are configured quickly and so that the treatment process can proceed will be crucial. There is no denying that "normal" life, for both child and family, is going to be put on hold for a while. Time, attention, and money--a lot of it--will all focus around the childhood cancer patient and in making him or her better, and in most cases, these adjustments will have to be made very quickly. No one is ever completely prepared for dealing with such situations all at once, so again, having a core support team available to answer important questions about the childhood cancer and it's treatment, and to ease any doubts and feelings of fear, will only aid in taking the necessary steps toward treatment comfortably.
Getting treatment payment information from insurance companies, banks, government agencies, and children's aid organizations will also be very important; the reality of the matter is that cancer treatment is very expensive, and even all insurance monetary aid sources combined will not cover all the costs, which can often climb up to $50,000. Additionally, regular bills and family expenses, transportation costs, and prolonged hospital stays will have to be taken into account too. Even in the most extreme and expensive childhood cancer scenarios, though, loans and payment plans make it very possible for a child to receive the needed treatment, even if financial standing may not be ideal. 
Types of Childhood Cancer: Finding out as much information about what specific cancer a child is afflicted with will be crucial in every aspect of the treatment and healing process. Like mentioned earlier, the types of cancers to affect children are far different than those which affect adults. Leukemia, a group of cancers which forms in the blood-forming cells of a child's body, is the most prevalent, accounting for about 33% of all childhood cancers. The most common leukemia specifically, accounting for 75% of cases, is acute lymphocytic leukemia, or ALL. Central nervous system cancers, including those which affect the brain and spinal cord, are at a close second, responsible for roughly 21% of childhood cancer cases. The remaining half of cancers to afflict children include the following types: lymphomas, accounting for 8%, which form in a child's lymph system; neuroblastomas, accounting for 8%, which form in early nerve cells; Wilms tumors, or nephroblastomas, accounting for 5%, which are a type of kidney cancer; primary bone cancers, accounting for 4%; rhabdomyosarcomas, accounting for 3%, which forms in the soft tissues of a child's body; and lastly, retinoblastomas, accounting also for 3%, which are retinal cancers of the eye.  
Treatments Of Childhood Cancer: For almost all childhood cancers, surgery, radiation therapy, or chemotherapy, or a combination of either one or all of these, can be used in the treatment of a young patient. While all will undoubtedly be scary for children, especially when side-effects begin to show, reassuring them that it's necessary in order for them to get healthy again will help make the process somewhat more bearable. Primarily, surgery is used either for tumors which are confined to a specific area and easy to remove, or, in the most severe scenario, for the removal of an entire limb or structure of the body (enucleation or amputation). While the latter is performed mainly for retinoblastomas and bone cancers, surgical procedures both large and small can be used for most any purpose. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy, on the other hand, are most commonly used, and generally, very successful. Although each one of these childhood cancer treatments does have it's own set of side-effects attached--ranging from nausea and fatigue, to hair loss and an increased risk of infection--most of these are short-lived, and go away once the treatments are completed, but again, a child needs to constantly be reassured of this. The loss of energy and irritability from undergoing cancer treatment is bound to be a source of confusion and sadness for the child, especially when he or she starts missing out on regular childhood activities, but by promoting positive energy all around the household and focusing on activities that do no wear the child out as much will make the process easier and faster.
Late Effects Of Cancer Treatment:  Since cancer treatment is administered at such a young age, though, this often means dealing with a wide-range of effects which occur once the treatment is completed. While sometimes the effects are mainly psychological, especially if extensive surgery, such as amputation or enucleation, was needed, a child will mostly have be cautious about various late-effects which can occur, most which don't start to develop until years, or even decades, after the cancer is successfully eradicated. While psychological issues that a childhood cancer patient encounters, like fear, self-consciousness, or depression, can usually be battled with a strong support system (both medical and family), late effects prove to be far more severe. For this reason, late effects are a constant focus of cancer research. Although essentially, every child and his or her body will respond to treatment differently, as a whole, chemotherapy and radiation have show a very strong link to health problems in later stages in life.

In most cases, late effects develop because healthy cells or structure of the body were damaged during childhood cancer treatment. Naturally, higher doses of treatments have shown higher risks of late effects. While some occur sooner, such as learning disabilities for children who have had chemotherapy treatment directly injected into their spinal column (IT chemo), others start to show when the body goes through development changes. Some of the more common late effects include: decreased growth and sexual development, cardiovascular and respiratory system problems, hearing and/or vision changes, and problems with the mouth region, including salivary gland damage or gum and teeth issues. Some childhood cancer survivors, especially ones which had extensive radiation therapy, are also at risk for second cancer development later in life. Routine, follow-up exams are crucial for all children which have undergone cancer treatment for this very reason. Even if no late effects show during the first few years after cancer treatment has finished, keeping all documents and records connected with the cancer is important in the case that they ever do begin to show.

Nutrition For Childhood Cancer: Although certain effects of cancer treatment cannot be avoided, by sustaining a healthy diet and balanced nutrition throughout the treatment process, a child will be able to retain far much energy, have a lower risk of infection, and tolerate treatment and it's side effects better. Generally, cancer nutrition plans recommend that children get anywhere from 20% to 90% more calories than a healthy child; other nutrients will also need to be constantly resupplied, such as protein, water, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. For those children which have a harder time staying on track with cancer nutrition plans, a special daily multivitamin will often be recommended. Other nutrition therapy options include inserting a feeding tube into the stomach or small intestine, or parenteral nutrition, which would supply nutrients directly into a vein. 

Every stage of the childhood cancer treatment process, from diagnosis to recovery and follow-up care, is bound to be a challenge for everyone involved. No parent or caregiver wants to see their child in pain, and doing everything possible to assure that that pain is minimized as much as possible can be exhausting in itself. Adjustments will have to be made not only for the childhood cancer patient, but for the entire family of that child, and such changes will often come with their own set of consequences. While there is no doubt that it will be a stressful time, finding comfort through others and releasing emotions in a healthy way will help make the experience--no matter how severe it may be--a far more positive one. After all, many children cope with the cancer well, while caregivers are the ones who need that extra boost of optimism. And sometimes, the answer is simple: by seeing the strength of a child and translating it into more strengthfor the child, the fight will only be made that much more powerful.

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