According to the American Childhood Cancer Organization, about 12,400 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with cancer each year. It’s the leading cause of disease-related death for children.
Cancers that develop in children tend to be very different from those that develop in adults. Here are some of the most common types of childhood cancers:
Leukemia is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in children, accounting for about 31 percent of cases. This type of cancer affects the white blood cells, causing problems fighting infections, production of other blood cells, bruising, bleeding, fever, weakness, weight loss, and joint pain.
Brain and nervous system cancers are the second most common types of cancer in children, accounting for about 15 to 21 percent of childhood cancers. They are named for their location, which can be almost anywhere in the brain or spinal cord. Depending on the area affected, a brain tumor may cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, vision disturbances, trouble with learning and memory and other problems.
Neuroblastoma is a type of cancer that affects the tissue in the sympathetic nervous system. It’s most commonly diagnosed during infancy and early childhood. One of the most common symptoms associated with this cancer is abdominal swelling. Children may also have bone pain and fever.
Wilms tumor is a cancer that occurs in a kidney (both kidneys are affected in rare cases). It’s typically diagnosed before age five and is characterized by a swelling or lump in the abdomen.
Lymphoma is a cancer that develops in the lymph system, the part of the body that carries white blood cells to fight infection. There are two main types: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The most common signs of childhood lymphoma are swelling of the lymph nodes, fever, weakness and fatigue.
Coping with the Diagnosis
A diagnosis of cancer is devastating at any age. For a parent, the diagnosis can be particularly difficult. In many cases, normal family life stops and parents are suddenly focused on the child with cancer. There is generally fear and uncertainty about potential pain from the cancer or treatments. In addition, parents usually worry about getting the right/best treatments, arranging appointment schedules, dealing with insurance issues, being able to pay for treatment and improving the child’s odds of survival. In addition, many parents have other children to care for as well. Researchers estimate 51 percent of moms and 40 percent of dads who have a child with cancer meet the criteria for “Acute Stress Disorder” within 2 weeks of the cancer diagnosis. Symptoms may persist for two months or more.
Martha Askins, Ph.D., Pediatric Psychologist with The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, says when a child is diagnosed with cancer, it’s important for parents to find positive ways to cope with their own stress so they can support their child during testing, treatment and recovery. She and her colleagues developed the Maternal Problem Solving Skills Training (PSST) Program to help moms cope with the stress of a child’s cancer diagnosis.
Askins says the program targets moms because women tend to be the caregivers for children and often take on much of the responsibility for the child’s treatment. She believes that when moms learn to cope positively to the cancer diagnosis, the child will also have a better emotional adjustment.
The PSST program (also known as Bright IDEAS) is given through eight one-hour one-on-one counseling sessions. Therapists teach women to cope using a five-step process:
Identify the problem (the primary stressors)
Define the aspects of the problem (brainstorm possible solutions)
Evaluate the options (weighing the risks and benefits of each solution)
Act on the problem (implement one of the solutions)
See how the solution worked
The goal is to help a mom learn how to find the best way to positively cope with a situation.
The researchers compared the effectiveness of the PSST program against another type of counseling, called reflective listening, which offers a listening ear, but few suggestions as to how to cope. Initially, women in both PSST and reflective listening groups had decreased stress. But after three months, stress levels in the moms who had reflective listening increased. On the other hand, stress levels remained low in moms taking part in the PSST program. Askins aims to develop an online version of the PSST program solving so it can be used by moms across the country and in other parts of the world.
AUDIENCE INQUIRYFor general information on childhood cancer:
American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org
American Childhood Cancer Organization, http://www.candlelighters.org
CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, http://www.curesearch.org
National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov
BIBLIOGRAPHYAl-Gamal, E., and T. Long, “Anticipatory Grieving Among Parents Living with a Child with Cancer,” Journal of Advanced Nursing, September 2010, Vol. 66, No. 9, pp. 1980-1990.
Alderfer, Melissa, Ph.D., et al., “Family Psychosocial Risk, Distress, and Service Utilization in Pediatric Cancer,” Cancer, September 15, 2009, Vol. 115, No. 18, Suppl., pp. 4339-4349.
Askins, Martha, Ph.D., et al., “Report from a Multi-institutional Randomized Clinical Trial Examining Computer-assisted Problem-solving Skills Training for English- and Spanish-speaking Mothers of Children with Newly Diagnosed Cancer,” Journal of Pediatric Psychology, June 2009, Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 551-563.
Fletcher, P., et al., “My Child Has Cancer,” Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 2010, Vol. 33, No. 3, pp. 164-184.
Stehl, Meredith Lutz, Ph.D., “Conducting a Randomized Clinical Trial of a Psychological Intervention for Parents/Caregivers of Children with Cancer Shortly after Diagnosis,” Journal of Pediatric Psychology, September 2009, Vol. 34, No. 8, pp. 803-816.