Cancer in children
Over the period 2000-2008, among children aged zero-14 in Australia:3
- An average of 583 new cases of cancer were diagnosed annually – a rate of 14 per 100,000 children.
- Incidence rates are unchanged from the previous period.
- Higher incidence rates are present for those aged zero - four (21 per 100,000 children) compared with children aged five -nine (10 per 100,000) and 10-14 (12 per 100,000).
- The most common types of new cancer diagnosed were:
- Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (4.2 per 100,000 children)
- Cancer of the brain (1.9 per 100,000 children)
- Non-Hodgkin lymphomas (0.9 per 100,000 children).
Despite being relatively uncommon in children, cancer is a leading cause of death (19% of all deaths) in children aged one to 14 years in 2009-2011.4 The outlook for children diagnosed with cancer has improved, with the proportion of zero to 14 year olds surviving five years after diagnosis improving from 68% in 1983-1989 to 81% in 2004-2010.4
The family's needs for support are substantial at the time of diagnosis, as they attempt to cope with a serious physical illness and the fear that their child will not be cured.5
At diagnosis, parents must adjust to the emotional realisation that their child is living with a life-threatening disease, while simultaneously receiving a large amount of information on how to manage and care for their child during treatment. Parents are very vulnerable during this time, and have an intense need for support from partners, families, friends, employers, hospital staff, and other parents.6
How parents respond to their child's diagnosis can also have a profound effect on how the child develops and responds to his/her illness. Factors which may influence how parents react include:5
- reactions to previous crises
- reactions of the child
- child rearing practices and attitudes
- available support systems
- perception of the illness
- previous knowledge or experience with cancer
- cultural and religious beliefs
- beliefs about the cause of the disease
- effects of the disease on the family
- concurrent stresses in the family.
Characteristics which affect children's responses include:5
- age (most vulnerable - six months to four years)
- development level
- social skills and self-concept
- pre-existing conditions and previous experiences
- intelligence level
- type of disease
- reactions of significant others.
Primary caregivers, who are important to the well-being of the child during treatment, need to understand the nature of the disease, treatment options and prognosis in order to participate in treatment decisions and to take on the care roles expected of them.7, 8 Nurses working with children who have cancer have a significant supportive role in:5, 8
- providing information and supportive care
- helping the family understand the various therapies
- preventing or managing side effects or toxicities
- observing for early and late effects of treatment.
Cancer Australia. (2015) EdCaN module: Acute lymphoblastic leukaemia.
Watch Ellie’s story: experience of diagnosis and complete the following learning activity:
- Outline the key social and emotional issues Ellie's family may face over the next three months related to Ellie's diagnosis with ALL
Access the following resources:
- Guidance on cancer services: improving outcomes in children and young people with cancer(PDF, 456KB)8
- Clinical practice guidelines for the psychosocial care of adults with cancer1
- Summarise key principles in providing supportive care for people affected by childhood cancer during the diagnostic phase.