Lung cancer is characterized by the uncontrolled multiplication of abnormal cells in the lungs. This condition can occur in one or both lungs and can affect a person of any age. Although rare, it may occur in children too.
It could be hard for you to fathom the fact that a child or someone dear to you is affected by lung cancer. But being aware of the disease may help you identify and get it treated in its early stages.
This MomJunction post gives you essential details about the signs of lung cancer in children, and its causes, diagnosis, and treatment.
Can Children Get Lung Cancer?
Yes. However, it is rare for children to get affected by lung cancer.
Types Of Lung Cancer In Children
There are different types of lung tumors that occur in children. In some cases, cancer may spread from other tissue areas to the lungs, known as secondary or metastatic cancer, while in other cases, cancer directly affects the lungs (primary cancer) (1). Lung cancer can be broadly classified into (2):
- Small-cell lung cancer: It is less common but is likely to spread
- Non-small-cell lung cancer: It is common and spreads slowly. Adenocarcinoma, large cell carcinoma, and squamous cell carcinoma are the major types.
- Rare cancer types: Chest wall tumors, metastasized cancer (abnormality begins in other parts and spreads to the lung), carcinoid tumor, and mediastinal are certain types of rare lung cancer.
What Are The Causes Of Lung Cancer In Children?
- Passive smoking: When a child breathes in the smoke from the cigarette, pipe, or cigar of another person, it can affect the lungs and may result in lung cancer. Generally, passive smoking of parents. According to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one in four non-smokers, which included 14 million children, were exposed to passive smoking during 2013–2014.
- Environmental factors (air pollution): Exposure to harmful compounds present in the air is one of the major causes of lung cancer.
- Genetics or family history of lung cancer: If anyone in the family, irrespective of a smoker or a non-smoker, had lung cancer, then a child’s risk of developing cancer may increase.
- Respiratory infections: When lung infections, such as pneumonia, repeatedly occur, they may lead to abnormal growth of cells.
- Exposure to asbestos, arsenic, radon, or radioactive dust: Inhalation of carcinogenic compounds and elements can be one of the reasons for lung cancer.
What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Lung Cancer In Children?
The signs of lung cancer in children are similar to those of adults. Also, there may be no significant symptoms at an early stage of cancer.
- Cough that is not cured even after a couple of weeks
- Wheezing, hoarseness of voice, or chest pain
- Shortness of breath specially on exertion
- Blood in cough
- Tiredness and weight loss
- Recurrence of infections
- Swelling of neck or face
The presence of these symptoms does not necessarily mean that the child has lung cancer. Symptoms are often generic, and thus the real cause is seldom known unless the diagnosis is made.
Diagnosis Of Lung Cancer In Children
The doctor starts the diagnosis with a medical examination that could be followed by tests and scans (6).
- Medical examination: It involves knowing the history (illnesses, patient’s habits, treatments done in the past) of the patient, followed by physical examination. The doctor looks for signs such as swelling and lumps or something unusual.
- Chest X-ray: It shows the tumor as a white-grey mass or as ground glass like opacities. However, X-rays do not give much information on what type of cancer it is or how deeply it has spread.
- CT (computerized tomography) scan: Detailed 3D images of the abnormalities are shown in the scan. It also shows the size and location of the abnormality.
- PET (positron emission tomography) scan: It involves a CT scan wherein a low dosage of radioactive substance is injected into the patient’s body to obtain clear pictures of the infected area. It helps to assess the treatment plan for lung cancer.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): This scan may or may not be done based on the type of cancer and the results of the previous scans. It can help to know if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Whole body scans help us find the primary source of cancer.
- Lung biopsy: This is extremely important and diagnostic. It confirms the type of cancer and is done through bronchoscopy.
The treatment plan is based on the results of the diagnostic tests.
Treatment Of Lung Cancer In Children
Treatment plans for lung cancer depend on the type and stage of the disease. Some of the standard therapies include (7):
- Surgery: If the tumor has not spread to other parts of the body, surgery is performed to remove it. Although surgery is generally effective, there may be high chances of recurrence of cancer.
- Radiation therapy: When the cancer is within its limited stage, radiation is directed to destroy the cancerous cells. Sometimes, this therapy is given along with chemotherapy.
- Chemotherapy: This therapy is suggested to contain the rapid growth of cancerous cells. Medications are used to stop or slow down the uncontrolled growth of cancer.
Precautionary Measures That Might Reduce The Risk Of Lung Cancer In Children
Parents may take some general health measures that may help reduce their children’s risk of getting cancer. However, these measures cannot prevent lung cancer completely.
- If someone in the house or a public place is smoking, then consider asking them to stop or take your child away from that place.
- Reduce the exposure to harmful substances. You may get your house tested for chemicals and consider an air filtration system. If the house is located near a asbestos or chemical factory, consider changing the residence.
- Providing your children a healthy and well-balanced diet and encouraging them to do physical exercises may help in reducing the overall risk of lung diseases.
It is often a combination of factors that contributes to the cause of lung cancer in children. Keep a check on the health status of your child. If any symptom, such as coughing or fever, persists for more than two weeks, do visit a doctor. Most types of lung cancer are benign and can be cured if diagnosed and treated early. Be vigilant and keep your child in a healthy environment. Also, you may try and educate people in your home to quit smoking and maintain their physical health.
What is your opinion on lung cancer in children? Let us know in the comments section below.
2. Lung Cancer Types; Johns Hopkins Medicine3. Lung Cancer; nhs.uk
4. What Are The Risk Factors for Lung Cancer?; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
5. Lung Cancer – Child; rarecancers.org
6. Lung Cancer; radiologyinfo.org
7. Pediatric Non-Small Cell Lung Cancer; National Organization for Rare Disorders
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