With continued advancements in cancer treatments and technologies, more children are being cured than ever before. At Mercy Kids, we focus on achieving the best possible outcomes, so your child can focus on being a kid. If your child has cancer, you need so much more than medical care. You need compassionate caregivers by your side who understand how cancer affects the whole family.

Pediatric Cancer Care at Mercy

At Mercy Kids, you’ll find a supportive, family-centered care environment, along with the deep expertise it takes to fight childhood cancer. Mercy’s specialized cancer centers for children and adolescents offer therapy rooms that provide a comforting environment for children receiving treatment, as well as relaxing spaces for children and their families to gather, play games or simply be together.

Young Adult Cancer Care

Dr. Robin Hanson, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist at the Cardinals Kids Cancer Center at Mercy Children’s Hospital St. Louis, explains the special needs and concerns of young adults with cancer.

About Childhood Cancer

Unlike many cancers of adults, lifestyle-related factors, such as drinking and smoking, don't play much of a role in a child's risk of getting cancer. Although there are a few environmental factors, such as radiation exposure, that have been associated with an increased risk of some childhood cancers, these are rare. Many cancers in children are found early. However, early detection of cancer in children can be difficult since early symptoms are often similar to those caused by illness and injury.

Children can develop cancer anywhere in their bodies, including the blood, lymph system, brain and spinal cord (central nervous system), kidneys, and other organs and tissues. Cancer behaves differently in kids than it does in adults, even in the same parts of the body. Mercy treats all types of childhood cancer including:

Childhood Leukemia 

Childhood leukemia accounts for 29% of all children’s cancers. Leukemia is cancer of the blood cells in the bone marrow ― the spongy tissue inside your bones where blood cells develop. Leukemia usually occurs when abnormal white blood cells grow out of control. The two most common types of leukemia in children are:

 

  • Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) – ALL develops from early lymphoid cells, a type of white blood cell. It progresses quickly and can become life-threatening within months if left untreated. ALL is more common in kids than adults.
  • Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) – AML occurs in early forms of white blood cells but can develop in other cells. It spreads quickly throughout the body and can be difficult to treat.

Childhood Brain & Spinal Cord Cancers

About 26% of childhood cancers are brain and spinal cord cancers. Many types of tumors can develop, including:

 

  • Gliomas – about half of all brain and spinal cord tumors found in kids are gliomas, a group of tumors that start in the gluey supportive cells (glial cells) that surround nerve cells and help them function.
    • Astrocytomas begin in astrocyte cells, which support and nourish nerve cells.'
    • Ependymomas start in ependymal cells that line the passageways where cerebrospinal fluid flows.
    • Brain stem gliomas form in the brain stem.
  • Embryonal tumors – about 10-20% of brain tumors in kids are embryonal tumors, which begin in early forms of nerve cells in the central nervous system.
  • Primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNETs) - are rare, malignant tumors that develop from early nerve cells.
  • Neuroblastomas – this cancer grows in immature nerve tissue (neuroblasts) and is most common in early infancy.

Childhood Lymphoma

Lymphoma starts in a type of white blood cell called a lymphocyte, which is part of the immune system. There are two primary types of lymphoma:

 

  • Hodgkin Lymphoma - also called Hodgkin disease, this cancer is marked by the presence of Reed-Sternberg cells ― very large, abnormal cells that often have more than one nucleus.
  • Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma – any lymphoma that doesn’t have Reed-Sternberg cells is considered non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It has many subtypes that range from slow-growing (indolent) to fast-growing (aggressive).

 

Of the two types, non-Hodgkin lymphoma is more common in children. It accounts for about 7% of all childhood cancers.

Childhood Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer develops in the thyroid gland, the butterfly-shaped organ at the base of the throat that regulates metabolism, blood pressure, body temperature and heart rate. Thyroid cancer is less common in children than adults, representing only 4-5% of all childhood cancers and is most often diagnosed in teenage girls.

Childhood Liver Cancer

Cancer cells can form in the tissues of the liver, causing liver cancer. Liver cancer accounts for about 2% of all childhood cancers. The most common type of liver cancer in children is hepatoblastoma, which originates in liver cells and appears at ages 2 months to 3 years.

Childhood Bone Cancer

Cancer cells can form in the bones or spread to them from somewhere else in the body. The two most common types of bone cancer in children are:

 

  • Osteosarcoma – this type of bone cancer starts in an early form of bone cells. It often appears in kids over age 10.
  • Ewing tumor (Ewing sarcoma) – Ewing tumors are marked by the presence of small, round, blue cells. It most frequently occurs in teenagers.

Childhood Germ Cell & Gonadal Tumors

Germ cell and gonadal tumors affect children’s reproductive organs (ovaries in girls and testicles in boys). Most ovarian and testicular cancers start from germ cells ― the cells in a developing embryo that eventually become the eggs in ovaries and sperm in testicles. Germ-cell tumors in kids are rare, representing only 3.5% of children’s cancers.

Depending on the type of childhood cancer, other symptoms are possible. Keep in mind that in many cases, these symptoms are caused by something other than cancer. Although cancer isn’t common in children, any unusual symptoms that don’t go away on their own can indicate a potential issue, including:

 

  • Bleeding or bruising easily
  • Fever or sickness that persists
  • Headaches with vomiting
  • Limping
  • Loss of energy
  • Lumps or swelling
  • Pain in one part of the body
  • Paleness
  • Vision or eye changes
  • Weight loss

 

Share any concerns with your child’s Mercy health care provider, which may be a pediatrician, family practitioner or nurse practitioner, depending on which office you visit for care.

Your child’s Mercy health care provider is likely to be the first to suspect an issue that could be cancer-related. From there, you’ll visit Mercy’s pediatric oncologists and hematologists, who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of childhood cancer. They’re supported by a team that includes social workers, nutritionists, therapists and many other health professionals who address the whole spectrum of childhood cancer.

 

Diagnostic tests depend on your child’s symptoms, but some common tests include:

 

  • Physical exams
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Biopsies to collect and test small tissue samples
  • Imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans and MRI scans
  • Bone marrow tests to collect and test marrow or bone
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) to collect and test spinal fluid

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