Differences between childhood cancer and adult cancer

Differences between childhood cancer and adult cancer

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The child cancer represents an enemy against which science and medicine have been fighting with great determination since the 1950s. At that time, the first specific treatment units were formed in child cancer, and the first effective treatments appeared.

Thanks to the constant efforts of researchers, the effectiveness of treatments for these tumors has improved enormously. Today they are achieved cure more than 80% of childhood cancers. However, that remaining 20 percent has represented, for years, a complicated challenge for medicine and scientists.

One of the reasons why child cancer continues to present pitfalls is because it shows significant differences with respect to cancer of adults. In this article we will briefly describe some of the most relevant, but above all, we want to give visibility to the research, the only way to cure the 20% of the cases that are not cured. A job that since CRIS Against Cancer we have bet since our birth, investing funds in research projects in hospitals and public centers

Without going into the biological part yet, we find that the first of these differences is social and family. Receiving a cancer diagnosis is always a tough and traumatic experience. Fear, uncertainty and anxiety about the times ahead are usually common reactions when someone receives the news.

However, this can be especially hard when it is a child who suffers. The effect of a cancer diagnosis on your child can have a devastating effect on a family. Facing the prospect of treatments, uncertainty, changes in family routine, hospital admissions can make a world.

There are more biological reasons than differentiate childhood cancer from adult cancer. Cells' DNA represents their instruction manual and indicates how they should behave in the body. If these instructions accumulate errors (called mutations) over time, cells can behave abnormally. In a minority of cases, these abnormal behaviors lead to cells multiplying uncontrollably and developing A tumor.

In adults, this accumulation of alterations is usually associated with age. As we age, cells have to replace each other more and more times. This implies an increased risk of accumulating errors in the DNA that lead to a tumor. The amount of errors that accumulate can also be determined by habits, such as lack of physical exercise, poor diet, or consumption of alcohol and tobacco.

Now, this is not so in the case of children. The tumors they can appear in very early stages. Therefore, factors such as habits do not play a role in the development of the child cancer. In fact, unlike adults, there are hardly any risk factors that have been clearly associated with the development of childhood cancer. The absence of risk factors makes it difficult to design prevention strategies for these tumors.

For this reason, one of the challenges for researchers today is to look for genetic elements, both in children and in their families, that allow future identification of which newborns present risk of developing childhood cancer.

On the other hand, the cells that usually trigger tumors in adults and children are also often different. The organs of our body are made up of various types of cells. Some of them act as exterior cladding, ceilings and floors, define the limits of that organ. Other cells have more structural tasks, they are scaffolding, foundations and pillars. In adults, the most common tumors usually occur in lining cells (carcinomas), while childhood cancer is more common in structural cells (sarcomas).

This means that we cannot treat childhood tumors in the same way as adult tumors, since the cells that cause them are not the same. Also, children do not respond in the same way to treatments as adult patients. Child patients are not small adults, but have specific therapeutic needs.

On the other hand, the cases of childhood cancer are few but very heterogeneous. This makes it very difficult to study these tumors, especially the more aggressive ones. In the case of adults, hospitals and research centers usually have a large number of samples of different types of tumor, which allows finding common elements and drawing conclusions more easily than in childhood cancer.

The most direct conclusion of this last point is that in order to develop effective therapies against childhood cancer, especially against the forms that today do not have treatment, several things are important:

- In the first place, communication between a large number of research centers and hospitals, both national and international. This allows the creation of data banks and common samples, containing patient data from a multitude of institutions.

- Second, it is essential to create specialized units that integrate research, clinical practice and the development of experimental therapies and clinical trials. These units will favor a faster flow from laboratory results to the application of new therapies. One of these Units, the Advanced Therapies in Childhood Cancer Unit that CRIS Foundation Against Cancer has just created in the University Hospital of La Paz, in Madrid.

In any case, there is only one way to combat the child cancer. And that way is to support research.

Author: Jesús Sánchez Ruiz, Dr. In Molecular Biology and Head of Projects of the CRIS Foundation against Cancer.

You can read more articles similar to Differences between childhood cancer and adult cancer, in the Cancer category on site.

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