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Cancer in Children

Cancer in Children - What it is

Cancer in children and teenagers is rare, making up only 1% of all cancer cases in Singapore. About 90 to 100 new cases of childhood cancers are detected in children less than 15 years old here each year. Remarkable progress has been made in curing infants, children, teenagers, and young adults with cancer. With advancements in technology, drug therapy and treatment methods, some childhood cancers such as acute leukaemia, lymphoma, kidney cancer and germ cell cancer have an 80% cure rate.

What Is Cancer?

Cancer is a disease that starts from the body's cells. The body is made up of many cells. Normally, cells grow and divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This process keeps the body healthy. When cells keep dividing even when new cells are not needed, the extra cells from a mass of tissue, called a growth or tumour. Tumours can be benign or malignant.

Benign tumours are not cancer and do not spread to other parts of the body. They can be removed and usually do not grow back.

Malignant tumours are cancer. These cells divide without any order and can damage surrounding tissues and organs. It can also spread (metastasise) to other parts of the body.

As the body is made up of cells, cancer can originate anywhere.

What Type Of Cancer Can Children Get?

The most common type of cancer seen in children is leukaemia, which accounts for 35% of all childhood cancers seen. In Singapore, we have also seen children suffer from:

  • Brain tumour 20%
  • Lymphoma 10%
  • Eye tumour 7%
  • Kidney tumour 6%
  • Adrenal tumour 5%
  • Bone tumour 5%
  • Germ cell tumour 5%

What Is Leukaemia?

As leukaemia is the most common type of childhood cancer, we would like to tell you a little bit more about it.

Leukaemia occurs when the marrow overproduces immature white blood cells called blast cells. Normally, the bone marrow contains a small number of blast cells. However, when they become the dominant cell, leukaemia is diagnosed.

Symptoms of leukaemia are pallor, tiredness, bleeding or bruising and recurrent fevers. These symptoms can last from days to months, and may not always be caused by cancer. It is important to see a doctor about these symptoms as only a doctor can make a diagnosis.

Leukaemia is diagnosed with a bone marrow aspiration, which is performed under sedation. It involves inserting a needle into the back of the hip bone to withdraw a small amount of bone marrow, which is examined under a microscope to look for excessive blast cells. After a diagnosis is made, other tests such as a spinal tap is performed to look for leukaemia cells in other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy, an anti-cancer drug, is used to cure leukaemia. After the initial stage, chemotherapy is typically given at an outpatient setting. Sometimes, radiation may also be necessary. Treatment for leukaemia usually lasts about 2 years.

Bone marrow transplants (BMT) are also sometimes used to treat leukaemia. It is usually performed for children with high-risk leukaemia, or those who have a relapse. The transplant may be autologous, i.e. from the child's own cells, or allogeneic, which are cells donated by another person. If the cells are donated by an identical twin, it is a syngenic transplant. During a BMT, healthy stem cells are infused into the body to replace cells that have been destroyed by very high doses of chemotherapy and / or radiation.

Cancer in Children - Symptoms

Cancer in Children - How to prevent?

​How Can I Prevent Cancer?

Although the exact cause of cancer is not known, research has shown that some lifestyle habits can help to prevent certain types of cancer. The benefits of developing these habits at a young age will certainly go a long way, before too much damage is done.

Lifestyle habitPrevents against
Avoid tobaccoLung cancer. Also cancer of the mouth, larynx, oesophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney and bladder
Minimise exposure to sunlight. Use sunscreenSkin cancer. Most serious form of skin cancer is melanoma. This is a potentially lethal tumour
Limit excessive alcohol consumptionCancer of the mouth, throat, oesophagus
Limit fats and caloriesColon cancer
Eat lots of fruit and vegetables for fibre and phytochemicalsColon cancer

Cancer in Children - Causes and Risk Factors

​What Causes Childhood Cancer?

We do not know what exactly causes childhood cancer. Current research focuses on how environmental factors combined with genetic factors can cause cancer.

Cancer in Children - Diagnosis

Cancer in Children - Treatments

Cancer in Children - Preparing for surgery

Cancer in Children - Post-surgery care

Cancer in Children - Other Information

​How Can I Help A Child Who Has Cancer?

A child who has cancer will have to undergo physical discomforts, both from the cancer and its treatment, which will last for a while. As a result, the child will experience fear, pain, and sometimes, anger. A lot of support is needed to help the child go through this difficult time.

If you know a child who has cancer, you can help the child by:

  • Keeping in contact with the child. You can send the child letters, photos, cards, gifts, emails. Remember special occasions like the child's birthday.
  • Visiting the child in hospital or at home - it is good to call first to ask when a good time to visit is. Don't be disappointed when the child feels tired during your visit.
  • Giving non-food items as gifts. A child with cancer undergoing treatment needs to be careful about his diet. Often, foods taste different, and appetite decreases.
  • Being a good listener and be sensitive about what you say.
  • Helping the child keep up with schoolwork so the child can cope better when he returns to class. Tell him the latest news in school. Many children with cancer do miss school.

KKH also administers a fund called the KK Outreach to Kids Fund - Cancer, to help these children pay for their treatment. If you wish to make a donation, please call tel: +65 6394 2324/1.

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The information provided is not intended as medical advice. Terms of use. Information provided by SingHealth

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