Blood cancer in children and teenagers, often is a devastating diagnosis that affects not only the young patients but also their families. These cancers primarily originate in the bone marrow, where blood cells are produced, and can manifest in various forms, including leukemia, lymphoma, and myeloma. During this time, supportive care and antibiotics helps manage side effects and improve the quality of life for patients.
Symptoms Of Blood Cancer In Children And Teens:
Dr. Susanta K Badatya MBBS, MD (Neonatology and Pediatrics) at Apollo Cradle & Children’s Hospital- Moti Nagar, New Delhi shared the symptoms of this cruicial condition:
- Fatigue: One of the earliest signs is often extreme tiredness or fatigue. Children may become lethargic and have difficulty participating in their usual activities.
- Frequent Infections: A weakened immune system is common in blood cancer patients. This leads to recurrent infections, which may manifest as frequent colds, fevers, or other illnesses.
- Bruising and Bleeding: Blood cancers can affect the body’s ability to produce platelets, leading to easy bruising, prolonged bleeding, and nosebleeds.
- Pale Skin: Anemia, a condition in which the body lacks enough red blood cells, can cause children to appear unusually pale.
- Bone Pain: Children with leukemia, in particular, may experience bone pain or joint pain. This occurs due to the abnormal accumulation of cancer cells in the bone marrow.
- Swollen Lymph Nodes: In cases of lymphoma, lymph nodes may become enlarged, leading to noticeable swelling in the neck, armpits.
- Unexplained Weight Loss: Children may lose weight unexpectedly and experience a decreased appetite.
Treatment Of Blood Cancer In Children And Teens:
Dr. Susanta said, “The treatment of blood cancer in children and teenagers is a complex and multi-faceted process. It often involves a combination of therapies tailored to the specific type and stage of the cancer.”
- Chemotherapy: This is the primary treatment for most pediatric blood cancers. It involves using medications to target and cure cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be given orally, intravenously, or by injection.
- Radiation Therapy: In some cases, radiation therapy may be used to target and kill cancer cells. This is frequently used in conjunction with chemotherapy.
- Bone Marrow Transplant: For certain types of blood cancers, a bone marrow transplant may be necessary. This procedure involves replacing damaged bone marrow with healthy stem cells from a donor.
- Targeted Therapy: This type of treatment targets specific molecules or pathways involved in cancer growth. It’s a more precise approach with fewer side effects than traditional chemotherapy.
- Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy helps the patient’s immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. It has shown promising results in treating some types of pediatric blood cancers.
Impact Of Blood Cancer On The Lives Of Children And Teenagers:
Blood cancer’s impact on the lives of children and teenagers is profound and far-reaching, affecting their physical health, emotional well-being, social interactions, and educational pursuits. These young warriors and their families confront unimaginable challenges, demonstrating strength, courage, and unwavering determination.
Dr. Santanu Sen, who is a Consultant, Paediatrics, Paediatric Hematology, Oncology & Stem Cell Transplantation at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai said, “The disease exerts a considerable toll on the young patients’ bodies. Unrelenting fatigue and weakness become constant companions, often leaving them unable to partake in the activities they once relished. Pain and discomfort, stemming from the disease itself and the treatments, frequently take centre stage, disrupting the normalcy of their lives.”
He also went on to speak about the impact blood cancer has on the education of young minds.
He said, “Education, an integral part of a young person’s life, is frequently disrupted by blood cancer and its treatments. Missed school days, difficulty keeping up with coursework, and the need for specialized educational support are common challenges. The toll extends to their peer relationships, with many feeling isolated from friends and struggling to maintain social connections.”
Talking about families, he said, “Families shoulder a significant burden as well. The significant cost of cancer treatment often strains financial resources, jeopardizing the family’s stability. Parents grapple with the emotional turmoil of their child’s illness, while siblings may feel neglected or emotionally impacted by the shifting focus. Caregiver roles change dramatically, potentially disrupting employment and family dynamics.”
Dr. Santanu also threw light on the after effects of blood cancer on children.
He said, “Even after conquering blood cancer, young survivors may continue to wrestle with its effects. Late effects of treatment, such as growth problems, fertility issues, and the heightened risk of secondary cancers, cast a long shadow. Psychosocial challenges, including anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress, can persist well into adulthood.”
“Yet, amid this sea of adversity, children and teenagers demonstrate remarkable resilience. They craft coping mechanisms and lean on support networks, including family, friends, healthcare providers, and support organizations, to navigate the turbulent waters of blood cancer,” he concluded.
Mental Health Of Children Dealing With Blood Cancer:
Dealing with a severe illness like blood cancer is an immense challenge, particularly for children. In addition to the physical hardships and demanding treatments, young ones facing this condition also grapple with significant mental and emotional hurdles. It is imperative to comprehend and address their mental well-being, as it plays a pivotal role in their overall recovery and quality of life.
In this regard, Dr. Nandini Choudhury Hazarika, who is the Lead Consultant, Dept of Pediatric Hemato-Oncology and BMT, at Madhukar Rainbow Children’s Hospital, New Delhi said, “A blood cancer diagnosis can be a profoundly traumatic experience for a child and their family. Emotions like fear, anxiety, and sadness are common, and the uncertainty of what lies ahead can cast a heavy shadow over their tender minds. Moreover, children often find it difficult to adjust to the disruption of their normal lives, as frequent hospital visits, treatments, and medication routines become the new norm.”
“However, in the case of very young babies and toddlers, it’s often the family and caregivers who require more substantial psychological support. This is because very young children typically lack the capacity to grasp the concept of uncertainty or fear in the same way that older individuals do. Offering emotional support, fostering friendships, and equipping families with coping skills are all vital elements in ensuring the survival and flourishing of the young ones,” she continued.
Furthermore, she said, “Among many challenges that young children face at this time is the profound sense of isolation. Engaging in support groups and connections with peers who share similar experiences can be profoundly beneficial. Such interactions allow them to express their feelings and fears among understanding companions, effectively diminishing the sense of solitude and nurturing resilience.”
“Providing counselling and guidance to family members and caregivers is of utmost importance, starting from the moment of diagnosis and extending throughout the lengthy treatment process, which can span nearly two years for blood cancer, followed by a five-year follow-up period. Through counselling and education, families can be empowered to serve as steadfast pillars of support for their children,” she added.
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