Cancer differs in many ways in children and adults. Children develop different types of cancer and they respond to treatments differently. And according to many experts, the fact that childhood cancer is relatively rare explains why too little research is done on the causes of the disease and specific treatments for children. They therefore call for greater investment in this area.
Childhood cancer, or pediatric cancer, accounts for less than 1% of all cancers, but it is the leading cause of death from illness in children over 1 year of age. Each year in the United States, 15,000 cases of pediatric cancer are diagnosed.
Children mainly suffer from cancer of the blood (leukemia), bone marrow, lymph nodes, brain, muscles, kidneys and bones. Adults, on the other hand, are most often confronted with skin cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, lung cancer and colon cancer. Some cancers occur mainly or only in children, while others affect mainly or only adults. For example, acute lymphocytic leukemia occurs mainly in children and chronic lymphocytic leukemia in adults.
Contrary to popular belief, children are generally more responsive to cancer treatments and are better able to cope with them than adults. Part of the reason is that they have fewer comorbidities and their body recovers faster. In rich countries, doctors are able to cure around 8 out of 10 pediatric cancers.
However, as children are still developing, treatments are more likely to produce side effects that permanently affect their health. Thus, 4 out of 10 young patients present long-term consequences such as cardiovascular disease, growth disorders, fertility problems and psychosocial disorders.
According to many experts, there is an urgent need to invest more in the development of new treatments for childhood cancer, however rare they may be. More research is also needed on the causes of childhood cancer, which is less known than in adults. In children, lifestyle and environment play a less important role and only a limited number of childhood cancers are hereditary.