What is Cancer?
The organs and tissues of the body are made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Cancer is a disease of these cells. Cells in different parts of the body may look and work differently but most reproduce themselves in the same way. Cells are constantly becoming old and dying, and new cells are produced to replace them. Normally, cells divide in an orderly and controlled manner. If for some reason the process gets out of control, the cells carry on dividing, developing into a lump which is called a tumour.
Tumours can be either benign or malignant. Cancer is the name given to a malignant tumour. Doctors can tell if a tumour is benign or malignant by examining a small sample of cells under a microscope. This is called a biopsy. Cancer of the white blood cells is called leukemia. In a benign tumour the cells do not spread to other parts of the body and so are not cancerous. However, if they continue to grow at the original site, they may cause a problem by pressing on the surrounding organs.
A malignant tumour consists of cancer cells that have the ability to spread beyond the original area. If the tumour is left untreated, it may spread into and destroy surrounding tissue. Sometimes cells break away from the original (primary) cancer. They may spread to other organs in the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system. When the cancer cells reach a new area they may go on dividing and form a new tumour. This is known as a secondary cancer or metastasis.
- Most childhood cancers are curable. About 80% of all children with cancer are being cured in the developed (high-income) countries, where all children with cancer have access to modern treatment.
- The types of cancers in children include leukemias, lymphomas, brain tumors, kidney tumors, neuroblastoma, sarcomas, liver tumors, bone tumors, germ cell tumors etc. Some cancers like leukemia, lymphomas and brain tumors occur both in adults and children. But certain other types such as Wilms tumor and neuroblastoma are unique to children and do not occur in adults. Most adult type cancers (of lung, pancreas, colon, breast etc) do not occur in children. Childhood cancer, including leukemias and lymphomas are more sensitive to chemotherapy than adult type cancers such as carcinomas. That is why we are able to cure about 80% of all children with cancer with modern treatment.
- In order to give the best chance of cure to all children with cancer, the diagnosis needs to be made without much delay; and every child with cancer should be treated at a major pediatric cancer center, closest to home.
- A pediatric cancer center is usually located in a major tertiary care hospital which has all the diagnostic facilities (such as full imaging and histopathology); all the specialists and facilities needed for managing children with cancer ( pediatric surgery, surgical specialties, pediatric ICU etc. blood bank). Pediatric oncology ward usually should be a separate ward preferably with private rooms; and the air should be clean to reduce the rate of infections. Such a center has one or more fully trained pediatric oncologists, a team of pediatric oncology nurses, and other professionals.
- About 230,000 children get cancer every year around the world. Of those, 200,000 (86%) live in low income countries like India and only 40% of them have access to modern cancer treatment. Others get inadequate treatment or no treatment at all. In India alone, about 45,000 children develop cancer every year.
- Approximately 2,500 children develop cancer every year in Tamilnadu state alone.Of those only about 1,500 (40%) children are getting modern treatment at major pediatric cancer centres. Others are receiving their treatment in hospitals which are not equipped to care for them or they are not getting any treatment at all.