Cancer rarely occurs in children under 14 years old, but when it does, special consideration is given to the child’s unique needs and continued growth and development. A paediatric oncologist is in charge of the diagnosis and treatment of cancers affecting children. It differs slightly from treatment of adults because, with children, it is also important to monitor their physical and psychological development upon undergoing cancer treatment.
The good news is that children are inherently resilient. They are able to withstand more aggressive forms of cancer treatment, suffer less side effects, and are likely to bounce back faster. Overall, children who undergo cancer treatment have a higher chance of full recovery.
Because children have a long life ahead of them, it is also important to manage their mental and emotional needs, especially those with cancer. This means a child’s school must be informed and special arrangements made to reduce any long-term effects when the child is waylaid by a long treatment schedule, hospitalisation or isolation, and their regular learning timetable is disrupted.
Children undergoing cancer treatment may look different post-treatment and, apart from cosmetic or reconstructive surgery, may require additional psychological counselling to prevent the onset of depression or other mental problems. The children and their families could also take part in support groups for this purpose. Some cancer treatment may affect a child’s future fertility or reproductive capacity, as such the child and their parents must be made aware of this.
Children who are cancer survivors must also undertake regular after care and medical surveillance into adulthood, to pick up early recurrences of cancer. If there are recurrences, then further courses of treatments are necessary.
Doctors can also look for any complications, side effects or change in growth developments, so that it can be treated immediately before it becomes more serious.
The management of a child’s cancer treatment usually involves a multi-disciplinary team of doctors and specialists, counsellors, rehabilitation and play therapists, and support groups. This team, together with the child’s family, are crucial to the successful treatment and recovery of the patient.
Dr. Sangeetha Poovaneswaran is a resident consultant oncologist at KPJ Damansara Specialist Hospital, and is board certified to practice as a Consultant Clinical Oncologist and Radiotherapist in the United Kingdom as well as in Malaysia.