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September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month and the facts are that just under 16,000 children and young adults are diagnosed with some type of cancer each year, and about a quarter of them do not recover. Mesothelioma is a very malignant, but rare cancer in adults, and it occurs even less often in children. This is generally because mesothelioma can take decades to fully develop and cause symptoms.
Causes of Mesothelioma in Young People
Asbestos exposure is almost always the root cause behind cases of mesothelioma. When adults are diagnosed with the disease, it’s usually because they had some exposure to it at an earlier point in their lives. Along with direct exposure, it’s also possible for families of asbestos-exposed workers to have secondhand exposure. This can occur when the worker comes home and has asbestos fibers on their clothes or in their hair. However, with children, it seems unlikely that asbestos exposure is the direct cause of mesothelioma. A study of 80 childhood mesothelioma cases revealed that only two children had previous asbestos exposure. Inhaled asbestos fibers typically do not cause any damage until many years down the road. Instead, researchers have found preliminary evidence that radiation exposure could be a risk factor in childhood mesothelioma cases. Other theories include the BAP1 gene and isoniazid exposure at the fetal stage.
Symptoms of Children with Mesothelioma
Some of the same symptoms that adults get with mesothelioma are also present in children. Appetite loss, weight loss, chest pain, difficulty breathing and fever are all typical symptoms. Unfortunately, these symptoms can easily represent another condition, which is one of the reasons why mesothelioma is often not diagnosed until it’s reached a critical stage. Such a diagnosis is less likely with children as it’s an even rarer disease in that age group.
Treatment of Children with Mesothelioma
Similar treatments are used for children with mesothelioma as for adults. Radiation and chemotherapy are the most common. Surgery can be more difficult on younger children especially. In cases of metastasized cancer, surgery is even less likely to be an option. Treatment is also just as difficult for children as for adults. In a review of seven childhood cases, only two of the children made it past five years after the initial diagnosis. The other cases saw no improvement after radiation and surgery. Chemotherapy allowed a few cases to stay in remission for over five years.
Mesothelioma is an appalling disease and it’s tragic for anyone to be diagnosed with it, much less a child. Research on the rare diagnosis continues to improve in hopes that future cases will be much better understood.