Rare Pediatric Cancer - An Overview

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How Many Children Have Cancer?

Cancer in children is rare, but it is the leading cause of death by disease, according to the National Cancer Institute. An average of one to two children out of every 10,000 children in the United States develops cancer. The most common cancers affecting children are leukemias, central nervous system cancers and cancers of the brain, which account for more than half of all childhood cancers. Rare pediatric cancers include some cancers common to adults and other cancers specific to children.

Rare Abdominal Cancers

Pancreatic cancer can interfere with the function of the pancreas, which is to secrete hormones. The lack of pancreatic hormones and juices can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, weakness, hypoglycemia and even coma. Depending on the location of the tumor within the pancreas, your child may experience watery diarrhea, a salt imbalance or jaundice. Treatment options may include radiation therapy, surgical removal of part or all of the pancreas, or chemotherapy. The only possibility of control is if the cancer can be surgically removed before it spreads. The prognosis for pediatric pancreatic cancer is poor. Since pancreatic cancer is almost always found in people over the age of 40, the risk of a child developing pancreatic cancer mostly depends on genetic factors.

Stomach cancer symptoms are hard to differentiate between common ailments in children, such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, weakness and poor appetite. This is such a rare cancer for pediatrics that very little is known about treatment outcomes. Risk factors include chronic gastritis, Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach and a family history of stomach cancer. Surgical removal of the tissue, along with radiation and chemotherapy are noted treatments.

Urinary Pediatric Cancers

While pediatric bladder cancer is extremely rare, the most common type is transitional cell carcinoma. The most common symptom in children is bloody urine. Diagnosis and treatment options for children are the same as adults with bladder cancer – urinalysis, CT scan, cystoscopy to look inside the bladder and a biopsy to confirm the presence of cancer cells. Risk factors for developing bladder cancer include the effects of chemotherapy drugs for other tumors or leukemia. Treatment choices depend on the stage and if the cancer is contained within the bladder. Early stage bladder cancer can often be cured.

Head and Neck Cancer

A rare pediatric cancer of the nose and throat is called nasopharyngeal cancer. It is slightly more common in children and adolescents 10 to 19 years of age than in children younger than 10. It occurs with the viral infection associated with infectious mononucleosis, the Epstein-Barr virus. Symptoms of the tumor spreading to the mouth, nose and throat may include nosebleeds, hearing loss or snoring. If it invades the skull base, cranial nerve palsy may cause difficulty moving the jaw. Risk factors for developing nasopharyngeal cancer include exposure to the Epstein-Barr virus and being from Chinese or Asian ancestry. Treatment of nasopharyngeal cancer includes a combination of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The prognosis depends on the stage at the time of treatment and if the cancer has spread to other sites, such as the lungs, bones or liver.


National Cancer Institute: Childhood Cancers https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Sites-Types/childhood

Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center: Rare Childhood Cancers https://lombardi.georgetown.edu/pediatric/cancers/rare/general.html