What Will Surprise You About Infant and Toddler Cancers
Children's oncologist and author of "The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions About Cancer" explains what happens when cancer strikes the littlest souls.
Cancer doesn’t discriminate — it strikes the old and young…and sometimes, the very, very young. Former Big Brother star Britney Haynes recently revealed that her two-month-old daughter Tilly was diagnosed with cancer, according to published reports.
To commemorate National Childhood Cancer Awareness month, we asked children’s oncologist Dr. Maitland DeLand, the author of the children’s book “The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions About Cancer,” to give us an overview of the disease and how kids and their families can fight it. Check out our Q&A below.
How often are children diagnosed with cancer?
Approximately 13,400 children from birth to age 19 are diagnosed per year, with the incidence of cancer in boys being slightly higher than girls. There are 2,500 deaths among children from cancer per year.
What are the most common cancers diagnosed in babies and toddlers?
Leukemia, as well as brain and central nervous system and neuroblastomas, are the most commonly diagnosed cancers.
What’s the most surprising thing about cancers that strike babies and toddlers?
Exposure to toxins such as pesticides, parental exposures to infection and toxins, maternal diet and infant diet can all cause cancer in young children. If the environmental causes referred to above could be identified in advance, precautions can be taken.
How successful are efforts to treat baby and toddler cancer patients?
Because of major advances in treatment, baby and toddler survival rates exceed 80%, however this percentage is dependent on the type of cancer. Cancer treatments, for example chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have, in general, better response rates in children than in adults.
Are radiation and chemotherapy always the answer for treating very young children?
(For childhood brain tumors in particular), one has to weigh risk of treatment with chemotherapy or radiation therapy versus the complications. The brain matures at the age of 3. Treatment prior to brain maturity is fraught with complications.
Alternative treatments, including organic, chemical free and hormone free nutrition, and pure supplements, vitamins, etc. in accordance with the child’s body mass, could help. Visual, tactile and auditory stimulation as well as the communication of absolute love and devotion, as well as the comfort of parental and family nurturing is essential. I believe this way, the baby’s own immune system can be stimulated to destroy the tumor. When it comes down to the essentials, medical treatment is, in most cases, essential… but it is ultimately one’s own immune system and body that is the key to the cure.
How else is treating a baby or toddler different from treating an adult?
Building trust in a toddler takes genuine appreciation of the child’s personality, likes, and dislikes, etc. It can be considerably more challenging for a physician treating a very young child with cancer, but ultimately one gains a unique fan and friend.
How often do baby and toddler cancer patients develop secondary cancer when they get older? Can this be traced back to their initial cancer treatments?
There is a 3% incidence of reoccurrence or a secondary cancer, which is 3-6 times higher than the incidence in the general population. This can be traced back to chemotherapeutic agents and radiation treatment.
There are approximately 270,000 childhood survivors of cancer. Careful follow up for development of secondary cancers and long term side effects after a primary cancer diagnosis and treatment is essentially a lifelong process for these survivors.
What can parents do to comfort babies receiving treatment? What about toddlers?
Attention to the baby’s emotional status is key, as is the family’s presence, and visual and auditory comforting by the parent. It is difficult for the family to glean an infant’s emotional and physical discomfort, so it’s important to just be there.
Toddler expression of emotional status is more easily detected than that of a very young baby. Nurturing the sense of a toddler’s well being with playtime, as well as caring attention to some medical needs of the child such as catheter maintenance or administering medicine with adequate medical training, are all important for family bonding. Decorating the hospital room, planning fun, collaborative art projects, playing videos during chemo, are all great ways to comfort a child.
It’s also important for a parent to maintain normalcy with playtime and other playmates, as well as school attendance (if the child is in pre-school), when possible.
Learn about some amazing tots, including several tiny but tough cancer warriors, in our “Little Fighters, Big Hearts” slideshow.
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