Understanding The Differences Between Childhood And Adult Cancers

Cancer is a devastating diagnosis, no matter what the age of the patient. However, childhood cancers have some distinct differences from adult cancers that make treatment and recovery unique. While much progress has been made in treating childhood cancers, there is still much to be done in terms of research and education.

  • Genetic causes: Genetic faults primarily contribute to malignancies in both age groups, but children usually acquire these defects early in life rather than through environmental or lifestyle influences, which are more prominent in adult cancer cases. While environmental and lifestyle factors rarely cause cancer in children, there is a potential risk if the mother is exposed to carcinogens during or before pregnancy. As a result, the opportunities for cancer prevention are considerably limited in children compared to adults.
  • Different types of cancers: Paediatric cancers tend to manifest in different locations within the body compared to common adult cancers. Adult cancers commonly affect the breast, lung, colon, prostate, and pancreas, whereas childhood cancers often include leukaemia, brain and spinal tumours, lymphomas, sarcomas, retinoblastoma, and neuroblastoma, which are frequently diagnosed in young children.
  • Specialized paediatric care: Children with cancer receive treatment from specialized teams of paediatric specialists who comprehend the unique needs of young patients. These teams are typically found in children's hospitals, university medical centres, and cancer centres, as childhood cancers are relatively rare.
  • Treatment approaches: Childhood cancer treatment involves a comprehensive approach using surgery and chemotherapy, with less frequent use of radiation therapy due to potential long-term side effects of radiology in growing children. Therefore, chemotherapy is administered more aggressively in children as they have a better capacity to respond to it and tolerate longer treatment durations. The utilization of various therapeutic modalities contributes to successful outcomes in childhood cancer treatment.
  • Favourable outlook with long-term considerations: Paediatric cancer often has higher recovery rates compared to adult cancers. Many children respond well to treatment and lead healthy lives. However, due to the more aggressive nature of treatments, long-term side effects may arise months or years after treatment completion. Childhood cancer survivors require lifelong monitoring to address potential late effects.

It is important to remember that while childhood cancers are different from adult cancers, both are devastating and require a comprehensive approach to treatment and support. Increased awareness and funding for childhood cancer research can help to improve outcomes and give hope to families affected by this disease.

Dr. Malay Nandy
Department of Medical Oncology
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