Understanding Pediatric Cancer

The Basics

The word cancer refers to changes in the body’s cells that cause them to grow out of control. These cells can grow very fast and spread, eventually crowding out normal cells and damaging entire systems of the body.

Cancer can occur in almost any cell. It begins with damaged DNA, the “building block of life” that controls all cell functions, including when to divide (reproduce) and when to die. When DNA is damaged, cells can divide rapidly or outlive normal cells. Most of the time, the body’s immune system recognizes these damaged cells and destroys them. However, if this normal process does not happen, a tumor can grow.

A tumor is a mass, or collection, of cells. Tumors can be benign or malignant.

 Benign tumors are noncancerous. They can grow, but they do not invade surrounding tissues or travel to other areas of the body.

 Malignant tumors are cancerous. Very different from normal cells, cancer cells can invade nearby tissue. They also can travel to areas away from the original (primary) site and grow in other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.

 

Causes of Cancer

Although every patient and family member wants to know what causes cancer, the reason children develop cancer is not well-understood.

 

Treating Cancer

Because cancer is a complicated disease that takes many different forms, it is treated in many different ways. Treatment is tailored to the specific needs of the person receiving it.

Cancer treatments vary depending upon four (4) main factors:

-Type of cancer
-Stage of cancer
-Your overall condition
-Goal of treatment
-Your doctor will determine the stage and grade of your cancer.

The goals of cancer treatment also vary:

-Cure
-Prolong life

Your doctor may recommend one or more treatments to achieve your goals. Increasingly, it is common to use several treatments at the same time or in sequence in order to prevent both local recurrence and recurrence throughout the body. This is referred to as a multi-modality treatment. Cancer treatments are also referred to as modalities. Modalities include chemotherapy, surgery, radiation therapy, biological therapy, and hormone therapy. Chemotherapy is one of the best ways to help you achieve your treatment goals.

Your doctor may also discuss combining your chemotherapy with other treatments