Understanding the emotional and psychological impact of cancer on kids


For a parent, watching their child battle any form of cancer is a heartbreaking experience. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), unlike adult cancers, most paediatric cancers do not have a known cause and as such, there is also a lack of understanding concerning these childhood cancers.

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Anil Nair, CEO of St. Jude India ChildCare Centres says blood cancers are the most prevalent cancers in children. “The most frequent is acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL), which is followed by high-grade lymphoma and myeloid leukaemia, both of which can be detected in particular conditions with certain genetic defects.

Leukaemia is frequent in youngsters between the ages of one and five years. Bone cancer, eye cancer, liver cancer, and kidney cancer are also prevalent, among the other cancers,” he explains.

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Nair believes there is a need to demystify paediatric cancer by understanding the challenges faced by kids. “Approximately 75 per cent of children may experience particular post-traumatic stress symptoms during or after therapy. Understanding the psychological impacts of continuous medications and therapies takes a lot of time, care, love, and sustained commitment from the family, relatives, friends, and society,” he says.

In the early stages of the survivor phase, a child may experience “various bodily changes”. Their social and psychological makeup is significantly impacted by the chronic stresses of paediatric cancer, including treatment-related discomfort, side-effects such as hair loss, weight gain or weight loss, and physical deformities, along with recurrent absences from school, Nair explains.

He adds that a “negative self-perception of self-appearance is linked to social, and psychological impairment, low self-esteem, and symptoms of depression in children“.

So, what is the solution?

According to Nair, while discussing a cancer diagnosis may be challenging and stressful, it will “allow open and honest talks throughout treatment”.

“Children require knowledge in order to handle procedures, cope with emotions, and exert some influence over their circumstances. They need to know they are loved, supported, and surrounded by individuals who care about them.”

He adds that good nutrition is important to fight cancer. “In India, the five-year net survival rate for children with cancer is now 30-40 per cent. When comprehensive care is offered — including diet — the survival rate increases to 70 per cent. Proper diet during treatment decreases side effects and treatment difficulties, leads to fewer delays, increased survival odds, and protection against infection.”

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