Cancer often happens for no apparent reason. It’s not fair and it’s ok to feel angry and afraid. You’ll probably hear lots of complicated medical jargon, meet lots of different doctors and be a bit unsure about what exactly is happening to your body.
Here we’ve tried to make things a little simpler by explaining a bit more about what cancer is and what will happen during your treatment.
Cancer in young people is still fairly rare. It is caused when a cell divides and produces an abnormal cell. If it continues to divide further it will become a cancer cell. Cancer cells can divide quite rapidly and can sometimes spread to other parts of the body.
The main types of cancer are either Solid Tumours, which affect an organ or bone and occur when an abnormal cell divides rapidly to form a lump or Leukaemias and Lymphomas which are cancers of the blood that occur when the blood cells divide and multiply abnormally.
Below are some of the main types of cancer in young people:
- Brain tumour – a tumour of the brain
- Ewing’s Sarcoma – a specific type of bone cancer.
- Germ cell cancer – a tumour of the teste or ovary
- Neuroblastoma – a cancer of the nervous system.
- Osteosarcoma – cancer of the bone
- Retinoblastoma – cancer of the eye.
- Rhabdomyosarcoma – cancer of muscle.
- Wilm’s Tumour – cancer of the kidney.
- Hodgkin’s Disease – a cancer of the lymphatic system.
- Lymphoblastic leukaemia
- Chronic lymphoblastic leukaemia
- Acute Myeloid leukaemia
- Chronic Myeloid leukaemia.
The Multi-disciplinary Team at the hospital will be responsible for looking after you during your consultations and treatment. This team is made up of a group of professionals who are experts in different areas of cancer treatment.
Consultant is a doctor or surgeon who takes responsibility for your diagnosis or treatment. The consultant will specialise in the particular condition that you have.
Surgeon is a doctor who specialises in the surgery associated with your condition.
Medical Oncologist is the title given to the doctor in charge of chemotherapy treatment.
Radiologist is a doctor who specialises in the use of imaging techniques such as x-rays and scans to help with your diagnosis or assist in treatment.
Play Specialist helps children prepare for treatment by using therapeutic play techniques.
X RAY is a painless procedure in which an area of the body is exposed to short rays of an electromagnetic spectrum allowing doctors to visualise internal organs.
Ultrasound Scan is a painless procedure during which high frequency sound waves are used to visualise internal organs.
CT Scan is a painless procedure. Sometimes, depending on the area of the body to be scanned, patients may be asked to fast and/or drink a special dye before the test. It works by combining computer technology with radiology to produce cross-sectional depictions of internal organs. The dye is used to improve the images and produce a clearer picture.
MRI Scan is a test that allows the visualisation of internal areas of the body not easily seen by other machines, by placing the patient within a strong magnetic field. This is a painless procedure; however the machinery used to complete these tests often appear quite big and imposing. It is important to remember that someone is always close at hand and that you can communicate very easily with computer staff during the test.
Everyone’s cancer is different and your treatment will depend on many factors. You may even need a combination of treatments. With any sort of treatment, there are likely to be different side effects for each individual. While for many, the side effects will be short-term and will tend to stop soon after treatment; others may be more long-term.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill off cancer cells. It can be given in the form of liquid or tablets, by injection or intravenously via a drip.
Because chemotherapy is killing off the cancer cells in your body, it can often have an effect on your healthy cells. As a result a number of side effects can occur such as:
- Sickness- Chemotherapy drugs can make you feel nauseous or even be sick but your doctor can prescribe anti-sickness medication and give you some advice on how to relieve this.
- Diarrhoea and Constipation- Chemotherapy can affect the bowel and change how it works. Laxatives or anti-diarrhoea drugs can help with this.
- Mouth Ulcers/ Taste changes- Certain chemotherapy drugs may cause a sore mouth or mouth ulcers which can develop quite quickly but will usually disappear within a few weeks. Sometimes you will experience a metallic or bitter taste which can sometimes affect how food will taste, but this should disappear once treatment ends.
- Hair Loss- This is probably the most common side effect associated with cancer and usually begins to occur within the first few weeks of treatment. Not everyone receiving chemo will lose their hair; it may just become thin or may not even be affected. Hair will grow back once treatment has ended.
- Skin problems- Skin can become very sensitive during chemotherapy and rashes or irritations can sometimes occur. It is important to keep well protected from the sun and chemicals such as chlorine.
- Changes in blood levels- Chemotherapy attacks rapidly reproducing cells and as a result, the number of blood cells within the body can drop.
Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to destroy the abnormal cancer cells. Only some people will have to have this type of treatment and it depends where in the body your cancer is.
Some children or young people may have a skin reaction to radiotherapy after a few sessions. As this treatment involves the use of high energy rays, the area of skin exposed to the radiotherapy can become irritated, red and sore and in some cases a bit like sunburn.
Bone Marrow Transplant
A Bone Marrow Transplant involves replacing diseased bone marrow or stem cells with a healthy one so that the body can one again produce healthy blood cells.
Bone Marrow transplants can be complicated procedures and your consultant will be able to advise you of the risks and possible side effects involved. These are likely to be different in each individual.